Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was unable to deliver his remarks at an immigration policy conference Monday, as protesters heckled him on the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
McAleenan was speaking at an annual immigration law and policy conference hosted by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Georgetown Law.
Before McAleenan began his remarks, protesters stood up and yelled, “When immigrants come under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
McAleenan attempted three times to start his speech, but was interrupted by the protesters on every occasion.
“OK, last time, team,” McAleenan said as he attempted to start his speech a third time.
“Lot to cover today, there’s some very serious issues that we can talk about today in candor, or we can continue to shout.”
McAleenan then said he’d “like to take the dialogue above the politics and the daily news cycle” and discuss “some of the fundamental issues we face with the current legal framework and its ability to address large scale immigration flows.”
That line was a reference to the Trump administration’s attempts to change immigrant protection laws and regulations that it says are being exploited by human smugglers.
But protesters again started their chants and McAleenan walked out.
According to the program organizers, the protesters were with CREDO Action, the advocacy arm of CREDO, a progressive grassroots organization.
A representative for CREDO Action told The Hill the group led the protest, along with several other immigration and progressive action groups, and some Georgetown Law students.
The protest’s goal “was to prevent McAleenan from having a platform to normalizing Trump’s cruel immigration policies and spreading hatred,” wrote the representative.
Nicole Regalado, a CREDO campaign coordinator who was one of the protesters, told The Hill the goal was to prevent MPI, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Georgetown from giving McAleenan a platform.
Regalado added that CREDO had earlier asked the hosting institutions to rescind McAleenan’s invitation, despite the fact that top immigration enforcement officials are routinely invited to the yearly event.
“The fact of the matter is we live in extraordinary times,” said Regalado, referencing McAleenan’s central role in implementing Trump administration immigration policies.
A spokeswoman for MPI said that the protesters “deprived” attorneys, service providers and others from “engaging in meaningful dialogue.”
“We very much regret that the keynote address Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan was to deliver today at the 16th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference was disrupted by protesters and could not occur,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, a spokeswoman for MPI.
“By drowning out the Secretary’s remarks, the protesters deprived immigration attorneys, service providers, journalists, advocates, business leaders, law students, and many others in the public who were in the audience from hearing his point of view and engaging in a meaningful dialogue,” added Mittelstadt.
Patricia Zapor, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said the group opposes the Trump administration’s immigration policy, but also lamented that an open exchange with McAleenan was made impossible by the protesters.
“This administration has advanced policies that are antithetical to our national ideals and interests and with which we strongly disagree. Yet the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s affiliates who provide legal representation to low-income immigrants must function with the laws and policies as they exist. Immigrants who are subjected to these policies do not have the luxury of declining to engage with the current administration,” said Zapor.
McAleenan was due to engage in a question and answer session after his remarks.
Updated at 10:55 a.m.