Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the Trump administration’s controversial zero tolerance immigration policy was an “effective” initiative, but it ended after the public lost trust in the government.
In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday, McAleenan was asked if he had any regrets about the policy, which separated thousands of families at the Mexican border. Many of the children were placed in hastily built detention centers, mistreated or misplaced.
“I think when you lose the public trust in a law enforcement initiative, and you have to recalibrate at the presidential level ― that means that wasn’t successful,” McAleenan said. “The enforcement of the law against parents who violated our border laws and brought children with them ... was effective. But it didn’t work in the sense that we lost the public trust in the implementation of that initiative. And I agreed with the president’s decision to stop it.”
He didn’t discuss how the trauma of separation and detention could affect families, many of whom were seeking political asylum and fleeing violence.
McAleenan took over as acting secretary after former chief Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign earlier this month. Prior to being tapped as an interim leader, he served as the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and was tasked with implementing the White House zero tolerance policy.
Nielsen received the brunt of Trump’s dissatisfaction about the handling of his immigration policies. He finally asked for her resignation when she rebuffed his efforts to close ports of entry with Mexico. Shortly after her resignation, Trump tweeted:
Trump has continued to take a hard line when it comes to migrants seeking refuge and asylum in the U.S. He has replaced many of his top immigration officials and alluded that he may reinstate the unpopular family separation policy. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the White House was considering even harsher measures.
On Sunday, McAleenan said any policy along the border could be both strict and responsible.
“I believe you can be tough and compassionate at the same time,” he said. “I’m gonna do what I’ve always done ― give good law enforcement, operational and policy advice to lawmakers and to policymakers. And that’s my intent.”