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The Head of DHS Got Shouted Down by Protesters Naming Kids Who Died in Immigration Custody

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Every time Kevin McAleenan opened his mouth to kick off an immigration policy conference Monday morning, protesters shouted him down. And finally he’d had enough: When the protesters began shouting the names of children who’d died in federal immigration custody, McAleenan walked off the stage.

The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who is reportedly becoming increasingly isolated within the Trump administration, was slated to give the opening speech at the Migration Policy Institute and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s annual immigration conference at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

But protesters seated in the audience repeatedly thwarted him, standing up and holding banners that said “Hate is not normal” and chanting, “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When children are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

McAleenan, the former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, became acting DHS secretary in April 2019 after his predecessor, Kirstjen Nielsen, was pushed out. As CBP commissioner, he helped implement the Trump administration’s 2018 “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of thousands of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. But now, several sources recently told the Washington Post, McAleenan is struggling to stay on the president’s good side.

McAleenan tried to speak over the chants but was unsuccessful. “As a career law enforcement professional, I’ve given my career to protecting the right to free speech and all the values we hold dear here in America, from all threats,” he said after the protesters had stopped chanting. “We’ll go ahead and try one more time, but otherwise I’m going to go back to work and keep trying to secure this country.”

That’s when the protesters started shouting the names of children who died in federal immigration custody. Members of the audience, including immigration lawyers and immigrants’ rights advocates, grew increasingly frustrated with the protesters as the chants continued.

“OK, last time, team. A lot to cover today. There are some very serious issues that we can talk about today — in candor — or we can continue to shout.” McAleenan said during his third attempt to start speaking. “What I was going to start with is that I’d like to take our dialogue this morning above politics and the daily news cycle and talk about some of the challenges and efforts we’ve faced over the last year.”

But after protesters began chanting over him again, McAleenan left the stage.

The protest, organized by CREDO Action, Sanctuary DMV, and other groups, spilled out to the front of the building -- a dozen students from the Georgetown University Law Center also demonstrated outside-- with additional support from more than 350 others who’d signed a petition asking the university to disinvite McAleenan from the conference.

Cover: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)





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Gaby Del Valle, Khareem Sudlow