Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, was shouted off stage at an immigration event at Georgetown University’s law school on Monday.
A group of protesters interrupted McAleenan for about 8 minutes at Georgetown’s annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, leaving the official visibly frustrated as he tried to read a speech about the Trump administration’s hard-line policies on the southern border with Mexico.
Activists bearing a sign reading “Stand with Immigrants” shouted “Hate is not normal” and “Why are you listening to this crook?” as others read off the names of migrant children who have died in Customs and Border Protection custody.
After the third interruption, McAleenan thanked the event’s organizer and left the stage. The Department of Homeland Security lambasted the activists in a statement Monday, saying attendees “would have learned more about DHS’s successful strategy to work with international partners to reduce unlawful migration and end the exploitation of children by smugglers and cartels” if the acting secretary had been allowed to speak.
“The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to free speech and assembly. Unfortunately that right was robbed from many who were scheduled to speak and attend today’s event at Georgetown,” DHS said in the statement. “Unfortunately the Acting Secretary and the audience did not get the opportunity to engage in a robust dialogue this morning due to the disruptions of a few activists.”
Credo Action, the group that organized the protest, rejected any criticism of its actions however, saying institutions that feature Trump administration officials could “expect to hear from us.”
“No Trump henchmen should be given a platform to spread hatred or defend the racist, xenophobic policies put into place by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller,” Nicole Regalado, Credo’s campaign director, said in a statement. “Institutions that elevate the architects and enforcers of Trump’s hate and normalize that cruelty can expect to hear from us.”
President Donald Trump and his immigration officials have faced years of criticism over their handling of migrants at the southern border, including the government’s family separation policy and its recent decision to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico. The White House also said last month it planned to slash the U.S. refugee resettlement program by nearly half.
McAleenan has become one of the most public faces of that effort after replacing former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was forced out in April by a president unhappy with the government’s efforts to stop the flow of migrants across the border.
McAleenan has reportedly grown more isolated in the department despite his work to uphold Trump’s policy agenda. In an interview with The Washington Post, he broke with the president to say the family separation policy was “well intended” but that it “went too far.”
Credo Action organized an open letter before his appearance Monday requesting his invitation be withdrawn, and a separate petition signed by hundreds of Georgetown students and faculty also made such a request.
“We cannot have rule of law unless the legal academy distinguishes between raw power and legally constrained governance,” Heidi Li Feldman, a law professor at Georgetown, said in a statement. “As a teacher and scholar of American law, I reject the use of Georgetown University Law School as a vehicle for legitimizing fundamental and pervasive lawless government policies and activities.”