Kevin McAleenan confirmed as U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief
Senators brushed aside complaints by immigrant-rights groups and confirmed Kevin McAleenan to be commissioner of the government’s chief border agency, putting him in charge of building President Trump’s border wall and stopping illegal immigration.
Even some of the chamber’s most liberal members and most prominent immigrant-rights advocates backed Mr. McAleenan, declining to make him a sacrifice in their battle to thwart Mr. Trump’s immigration plans.
Mr. McAleenan has been acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection since the beginning of the Trump administration, having risen after being deputy commissioner under President Obama.
“Kevin McAleenan is a 16-year veteran of the CBP. His nomination carries the unflinching support of a bipartisan group of leaders,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mr. McAleenan had beenhad been waiting for confirmation for nearly a year, and the White House earlier this month blasted the Senate for the holdup, saying Democrats were risking American security by keeping him from the fully confirmed post.
Some immigrant-rights groups seemed resigned to the pick, perhaps saving their fire for other Homeland Security agency heads such as Thomas Homan, Mr. Trump’s nominee to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But others demanded Democrats mount a fight.
“Kevin McAleenan proved that he is another of President Trump’s puppets, who will stop at nothing to harm immigrants,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “A vote against McAleenan is a vote in favor of American values and families.”
The vote was 77-19 in favor of confirmation, with a majority of Democrats joining all Republicans present in backing the pick.
Those supporters included Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, both of whom have been prominent immigrant-rights advocates while serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Most of the Democrats who are eyeing a presidential bid, however, voted against Mr. McAleenan, as did the party’s two top leaders in the chamber, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Richard Durbin.
CBP oversees the air, land and sea ports of entry, as well as the Border Patrol which controls the territory in between those ports. The agency saw huge gains in cutting illegal immigration last year during the early months of the Trump administration, but those gains have faded and the numbers have sprung back to where they were during the latter years of the Obama administration. Officials say illegal immigrants have learned to game the system to get a foothold here.
Mr. McAleenan will also oversee construction of Mr. Trump’s border wall, should Congress approve funding for it.
Sen. Kamala Harris, California Democrat, said she voted against the nominee because he oversaw the “chaotic rollout” of Mr. Trump’s travel ban policy last year, and hasn’t done enough to investigate misconduct within his ranks.
She also criticized CBP’s efforts to crack down on bogus asylum claims, saying she feared legitimate applicants were being “illegally turned away.”
“This lack of compassion has been stunning, and does not reflect the ideals of our nation,” she said.