DHS Chief Says He’s ‘Uncomfortable’ Not Having Control Over Messaging And Tone Of The Department

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan bemoaned certain aspects of his job, such as not having control over the department’s messaging, which he says is becoming more politicized. 
  • McAleenan secured asylum deals with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and has presided over a precipitous drop in illegal immigration crossings. 
  • However, his disinclination to be overtly political puts him at odds with other immigration chiefs who have no problem sparring with critics online or on television. 

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan expressed dissatisfaction with his role leading DHS, noting that he does not have control over the department’s messaging, and acknowledged that it’s becoming more partisan.

McAleenan, who began leading the Department of Homeland Security six months ago, listed several grievances he has with his job in a wide-ranging interview with the Washington Post. Namely, he lamented that he is not the “public face” of DHS, and, unlike other immigration agency leaders, he strongly hedged against the overt politicization of DHS.

“What I don’t have control over is the tone, the message, the public face and approach of the department in an increasingly polarized time,” McAleenan said during the interview, which was published on Tuesday. “That’s uncomfortable, as the accountable, senior figure.”

McAleenan, who touts nearly two decades of experience working in immigration enforcement, was named the acting secretary of DHS in April following the ouster of Kirstjen Nielsen. Since that time, he has cemented highly-coveted asylum deals with all three of the Central American nations that make up the bulk of the immigration crisis. He has also overseen a dramatic decrease in the number of illegal aliens reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, fulfilling a goal of the Trump administration.

While McAleenan has made numerous media appearances and regularly testifies before Congress, he makes it a point of personal policy to refrain from politically polarizing language. For example, he tries to avoid phrases like “illegal alien” because they carry “political, emotional and racial” overtones for a large segment of the American population.

“I think the words matter a lot,” McAleenan told the Washington Post. “If you alienate half of your audience by your use of your terminology, it’s going to hamper your ability to ever win an argument.”

The technocratic approach has earned him support from across the political spectrum. When McAleenan was nominated to lead Customs and Border Protection in an official capacity, he was confirmed in March 2018 by an overwhelming 77-19 vote in the Senate. However, his disinclination for political rhetoric puts him at odds with other agency leaders within DHS.

Ken Cuccinelli, who was appointed as acting secretary of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in June, regularly blasts his adversaries on social media and in media appearances. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, was appointed to his position after conducting numerous television interviews where he applauded President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. DHS acting Secretary McAleenan visits El Salvador in San Salvador

FILE PHOTO: Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan attends a news conference in San Salvador, El Salvador August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Immigration hardliners within Trump’s orbit also point to the fact that McAleenan donated to Obama’s presidential campaign. The two men have some history — Obama was his teacher when he attended law school at the University of Chicago.

Despite the likelihood that McAleenan would win a Senate confirmation vote, Trump has yet to nominate him, garnering speculation that he may be looking for someone else to take on the job. McAleenan, in the meantime, has now served in an acting capacity longer than any other DHS chief in the department’s history. (RELATED: Trump’s Immigration Agenda Hit With String Of Losses By Obama Judges)

It’s unclear if McAleenan has a desire to remain in his position. During an interview in early August, he refused to give a direct answer when asked if would like to go back to his old job at Customs and Border Protection.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is my home, my agency, my dream job, but I’m honored to serve in this role. I think there’s tremendous capability at DHS that we can continue to improve,” he said during an Aug. 11 interview on “Meet The Press.” The vague response prompted host Chuck Todd to ask if he wanted to lead DHS permanently.

“I’m honored to serve right now and I’m trying to solve problems. That’s my goal.” McAleenan said.

“You didn’t answer, is that fair to say?” Todd asked. McAleenan agreed it was “fair” to say so.

DHS did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. 

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