FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesHomeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan Resigns, Rumors of Potential Replacements Circulate

Following Kevin McAleenan stepping down as Homeland Security Secretary, rumors abound that USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli will be the President’s next pick.
October 14, 2019
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On Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the resignation of acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan after just a six-month tenure in office.

Attributing the decision to McAleenan’s desire to spend time with his family and transition to the private sector, the president said via Twitter, “Kevin McAleenan has done an outstanding job as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. We have worked well together with Border Crossings being way down. Kevin now, after many years in Government, wants to spend more time with his family and go to the private sector.”

McAleenan is the fourth Homeland Security Secretary to leave in less than three years and the sixth top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official to leave since April.

Since replacing former Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielson in April, McAleenan has overseen a number of President Trump’s immigration policies, including a rule requiring asylum-seekers to initially apply for asylum in a country through which they first pass while en route to the U.S., and enforcement of the Migration Protection Protocols that require individuals awaiting immigration proceedings to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated. 

Additionally, he oversaw the replacement of the Flores Settlement Agreement, the signing of an asylum cooperation with Guatemala, and was the acting Secretary during the four consecutive months of fiscal year 2019 that the total number of border apprehensions declined.  

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However, as a career public servant who also served under the Obama administration, officials in the Trump administration have been quick to criticize McAleenan for his more moderate approach to immigration policies when compared to those with more hardline stances.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, McAleenan expressed frustration with the Trump administration for the tone and approach employed regarding immigration policy. 

Despite these remarks, however, McAleenan issued a statement of gratitude and appreciation to President Trump saying, “I want to thank the President for the opportunity to serve alongside the men and women for the Department of Homeland Security. With his support, over the last 6 months, have made tremendous progress mitigating the border security and humanitarian crisis we faced this year.” 

Though no candidates have officially been chosen, it is rumored that acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli could be tapped as the president’s next pick.

As the former attorney general for the state of Virginia, Cuccinelli is known for his hardline stance on immigration and has helped oversee the implementation of President Trump’s immigration policies, such as the public charge rule that authorizes the government to deny green cards or permanent residency to individuals if they are deemed likely to depend on federal welfare programs.

On Friday, the same day President Trump announced McAleenan’s resignation, federal judges in New York, Washington state, and California blocked President Trump’s public charge rule, eliciting a response from Cuccinelli who expressed confidence in the rule regardless of the injunctions.

“An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law. Long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed,” Cuccinelli said.

Despite his support for and advancement of the president’s policies, however, Cuccinelli could face challenges from both Democrats and Republicans during the confirmation process if appointed by President Trump.

Democrats have been quick to criticize Cuccinelli for his hawkish immigration stances in the past.

In June, for example, he received some backlash for comments made about a photo of a man who drowned while crossing the border with his 2-year-old daughter, as some accused him of blaming the migrant for his drowning. 

“The reason we have tragedies like that on the border is because those folks, that father didn’t want to wait to go through the asylum process in the legal fashion, so [he] decided to cross the river and not only died but his daughter died tragically as well…Until we fix the attractions in our asylum system, people like that father and that child are going to continue to come through a dangerous trip,” Cuccinelli said.  

Senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris (D-CA) expressed her discontent with the USCIS director by saying, “We should not have someone who holds such callous views towards those desperate for a better life as the leader of our country’s citizenship services.”

On the other side of the aisle, when serving as president of the Senate Conservatives Fund before becoming USCIS Director, he was often outspoken about what he believed to be the policy and ideological shortcomings of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Senate Republicans, which could make garnering support from them a challenge as well. 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said of Cuccinelli as the potential replacement, “He’s spent a fair amount of his career attacking Republicans in the Senate, so it strikes me as an odd position for him to put himself in to seek Senate confirmation. It’s unlikely he’s going to be confirmed if he is nominated.” 

Prior to his resignation, McAleenan served as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner under President Trump.

Following his announcement, President Trump congratulated McAleenan for “a job well done” and said he planned to announce the new acting Homeland Security in the upcoming week. 

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.