Who Is Kevin McAleenan? Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Tapped by Donald Trump to Replace Kirstjen Nielsen

With Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen leaving the White House on Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that he has appointed Kevin McAleenan to serve as acting homeland security secretary.

"Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service," Trump tweeted. "....I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary for @DHSgov. I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!"

....I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary for @DHSgov. I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2019

McAleenan, who currently serves as the commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is CBP's top border security official and was sworn in on March 20, 2018, after serving as acting CBP commissioner since January 2017.

He started at CBP in 2006, working as the area port director at Los Angeles International Airport. McAleenan studied law at the University of Chicago and practiced in Los Angeles from 1998 to 2001 before joining the FBI following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Rank Award, the highest honor given for civil service.

McAleenan's confirmation as CBP chief drew support from Democrats and Republicans, including former-President Barack Obama's DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and deputy secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

"Each of us has worked directly with Mr. McAleenan and can personally attest to his honesty, integrity, patriotism, and commitment to the homeland security mission and to the security of the United States," a letter from eight Homeland Security officials from Obama's administration and nine others from the administration of former-President George W. Bush, ABC News reported.

"In these critical national security roles, Mr. McAleenan has led [the agency's] efforts to secure our borders…in pursuit of [its] priority mission to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States. He has also developed and implemented innovations that have facilitated the U.S. international arrival and departure process, both improving our security and making [the border protection agency] more efficient—and in the process saving the government and travel industry millions of dollars," the letter read.

McAleenan has also criticized some of the immigration policies pushed by the Trump administration. In an August 2018 interview with The New York Times, he called for sanctions for individuals who illegally enter the country but also called for a "better system" to allow families who cross the border illegally to remain together.

"To continue to enforce the law, there should be a sanction for crossing the border illegally. It's not a victimless crime. Not only are the people at risk, so are our agents who need to apprehend or rescue them. It's also a diversionary tactic for smugglers who use family groups to tie down our agents while drugs are moved behind them. A better system would allow us to keep families together for the entirety of the immigration proceeding, which takes an average of 45 days," McAleenan said.

In March, McAleenan warned that Customs and Border Protection was at a breaking point after CBP agents apprehended over 12,000 migrants in two days.

"CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest Border—and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso," McAleenan said at a news conference, as reported by the El Paso Times.

"We are now on pace for over 100,000 apprehensions and encounters with migrants, with 90 percent—90,000—crossing the border illegally between ports of entry. March will be the highest month in over a decade."

McAleenan also called for Congress to budget for medical care and to upgrade facilities for incoming migrants in December. The facilities were "not built for that group that's crossing today. They were built 30, 40 years ago for single adult males, and we need a different approach," McAleenan told CBS This Morning. "Even as we work on the broader problem of border security and of course solving the issues in our legal framework that are inviting these families and children to make this dangerous journey."

Kevin McAleenan
Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 6, in Washington, D.C. McAleenan, who will replace Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as acting secretary, told reporters that the latest statistics show migrant crossings at the Mexican border are on pace to break record numbers set last year. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images