The leadership carousel at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took another spin this week as the agency underwent fresh changes among officials tasked with enforcing immigration law.
Roughly 10 weeks after a purge of DHS leaders that included former Secretary , the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abruptly resigned and the agency announced a new head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
And there are rumblings that acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan is not on solid ground. Some of ’s allies and outside groups that favor stricter immigration laws are expressing frustration with McAleenan, suggesting further changes could be on the horizon as the president seeks to implement the right mix of loyalists and immigration hardliners to implement his agenda heading into 2020.
“I’ve made changes — very good changes,” Trump told reporters this past week. “We’re moving some people around into different locations.”
McAleenan announced this week that Mark Morgan, previously the acting director of ICE, would move over to lead CBP in the wake of John Sanders’s resignation.
Morgan, who led Border Patrol during the Obama administration, made clear in an interview with The Hill earlier this month that he intended to carry out Trump’s policies.
Replacing Morgan at ICE is Matthew Albence, a 25-year law enforcement veteran who has held various roles in the Trump administration since 2017.
The president said he was aware there would be a change when Sanders announced his CBP resignation. But Trump did not say whether he asked Sanders to step down, and Sanders did not provide a reason for his resignation.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Trump said Tuesday. “I hear he’s a very good man. I hear he’s a good person. I don’t know him. I don’t think I ever spoke to him.”
Morgan and Albence’s appointments follow Trump tapping Ken Cucinelli, an immigration hardliner and former Virginia attorney general, as the acting head of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.
Trump also announced former ICE Director Tom Homan would return to the administration as “border czar.” Homan has appeared regularly on Fox News to defend the president’s policies, but it’s unclear if or when he might return to government work or what his duties would entail.
Homan was sharply critical this week of McAleenan, suggesting he has not been supportive of Trump’s agenda and has hindered ICE from doing its job.
The White House did not respond to questions about the recent shakeup at DHS, including whether Trump ordered the personnel changes.
The latest reshuffling came as House Democrats clashed over a bill to provide additional border funding and as Democratic presidential candidates made the treatment of migrants a central tenet of the party’s first two debates.
The president has often argued that congressional inaction is largely to blame for the surge in border apprehensions and poor humanitarian conditions for migrants. But the recent turnover atop DHS suggests growing impatience with that agency as well.
Any frustration by Trump with the agency’s performance could prove problematic for McAleenan.
Multiple advocates for Trump view McAleenan as a placeholder and have criticized him in recent weeks for failing to aggressively pursue the president’s immigration priorities.
“He just basically has been a stumbling block for basically any enforcement that either CBP or ICE or USCIS wanted to do,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for the immigration reduction group NumbersUSA.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
The Washington Post reported this month that McAleenan was uneasy with Trump’s call for mass ICE raids to round up migrant families with deportation orders. McAleenan was said to have favored a more targeted approach.
Trump on June 22 postponed the raids for “two weeks” to give Congress time to attempt to pass legislation overhauling the country’s asylum laws.
McAleenan denied in an interview with Fox News Radio on Thursday that he was the source of leaks to the media that jeopardized the raids, but wouldn’t say explicitly if there were any Trump policies that he disagreed with.
“That’s not my role. I’m an operator, I’m a law enforcement professional, the president sets policy and we implement,” McAleenan said. “We implement in the best way we know how based on our operational experience.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Trump planned to nominate the acting secretary for the role full-time.
Ur Jaddou, who was chief counsel to USCIS during the Obama administration, told The Hill that McAleenan’s job has been complicated by the consistent turnover within his department.
“To have people at the top constantly changing and changing their direction on policy and how to approach things is completely disruptive which is why I call it chaos,” she said in an interview.
Jaddou said she could not recall any comparable amount of turnover to what has taken place at DHS in recent months.
Andrew R. Arthur, who served in the former Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, was complimentary of McAleenan but was unsure of his long-term role. He described McAleenan as a “very competent administrator” and noted his wealth of experience from leading CBP.
McAleenan has been under additional scrutiny this past week as concerns over the administration’s treatment of migrants gained a new sense of urgency.
Hundreds of children were moved from a detention facility in Texas after the Associated Press reported on poor conditions, including kids taking care of other kids and a lack of sanitation.
That same week, a photo went viral of a man and his daughter who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande River. Democrats seized on the image to decry the Trump administration’s policies.
“In another administration an acting secretary would be out immediately,” Jaddou said of the response to the photo. “The person would not survive more than a day.”
McAleenan addressed the photo in a press conference Friday, calling the incident tragic and devastating, but deflected blame away from his own agency.
“This failure is not on the men and women of DHS, and definitely not on the outstanding border patrol agents, and CBP officers and ICE officers who have borne the brunt to the challenges and most of the criticism,” he said.
McAleenan expressed appreciation for Congress for passing a funding package that includes $4.5 billion in resources for agencies responding to the influx of migrants.
Many Democrats panned the final version of the bill, saying it did not do enough to protect migrant children.
Still, McAleenan said the onus is on Congress to take further action, and he urged lawmakers to close immigration loopholes and approve changes to asylum laws.
“This situation should not be acceptable to any of us,” McAleenan said. “It should galvanize action and real debate based on what is actually happening on the border and why. And yet, here in Washington, we have collectively failed to act to address the drivers of the crisis.”