President Donald Trump reportedly told Kevin McAleenan, the new acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he would pardon him for blocking migrants and asylum seekers from entering the United States, in direct violation of immigration law.
According to senior administration officials who spoke with CNN, during his visit to Calexico, California, last week, Trump told McAleenan that he “would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying U.S. entry to migrants.” McAleenan had been the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner until this week.
CNN was unable to confirm if the comment was made in jest or was serious.
“At no time has the President indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal,” DHS said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Nor would the Acting Secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law.”
Congressional Democrats, who are in recess for the next two weeks, have already begun to call for McAleenan to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee. Committee member Kathleen Rice (D-NY) tweeted shortly after news broke Friday that “you can bet I will ask him about this incident.”
As Acting DHS Secretary, Kevin McAleenan will eventually have to come testify before @HomelandDems.
And you can bet I will ask him about this incident. https://t.co/byixW7hzcL
— Kathleen Rice (@RepKathleenRice) April 12, 2019
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, compared Trump to a “mafia boss.”
President Trump can't enforce his cruel and un-American immigration policies legally, so he's now resorting to acting like a mafia boss.
This egregious abuse of power must be condemned in the strongest terms.https://t.co/wEAfYGJjkl
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) April 12, 2019
The Trump administration has continued to push for fewer migrants and asylum seekers in the United States. Former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned under pressure Sunday, last year established Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico.” The policy, which Nielsen attempted to enforce along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, would force asylum seekers to wait out their asylum claims in Mexico where many migrants face persecution. A federal judge in California issued an injunction against the policy this week, but the government filed an emergency motion in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to block the injunction.
Brash immigration policy proposals, like closing the border to asylum seekers and migrants, is part of an ongoing anti-immigration push by senior White House adviser Stephen Miller. Miller, who has a documented history of invoking anti-immigrant dog whistles, has reportedly been given complete control of the administration’s immigration policy, forcing a series of resignations from top DHS officials like Nielsen, deputy and acting director of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) Ronald Vitiello, and Secret Service Director Randolph Alles.
Trump has also reportedly asked to bring back family separation, and on Friday, he confirmed that he would like to release all detained immigrants in “sanctuary cities,” or cities where local law enforcement can limit when they’ll detain undocumented immigrants for federal agents.
At present, there are no Senate-confirmed officials in seven top positions within DHS including inspector general, deputy secretary, or FEMA administrator.