Two pieces of good news about the border made the news today. This is a rare occurrence in an age when all the news at the border has been bad for what feels like years. But today was a good day. Kirstjen Nielsen resigned and Kevin McAleenan was made interim DHS chief.
Admittedly, I haven’t been the most successful prognosticator when it comes to disposition of cabinet choices. Early on I felt Jeff Sessions would be the President’s most loyal ally in the cabinet, while I figured Mike Pompeo would be a disaster at State. Sessions was a debacle and Pompeo has pleasantly surprised me.
Despite my cabinet pick success rate record being worse than my Final Four brackets, I’m more confident about McAleenan taking the reins at DHS than I’ve been about other picks. Nobody knows what he’ll be able to do until he does (or doesn’t) do it, but there are three reasons I have high hopes:
- He believes in strong security that does NOT breach American citizens’ privacy. All too often, those who are considered to be aggressive in dealing with terrorism, immigration, and transnational crime are willing to cross the line and breach the trust of American citizens. McAleenan is different. He respects our privacy while still striving to find solutions to our threats from abroad. “The challenge we face going forward is how can we share information while respecting privacy and civil rights and civil liberties, and distinctions in partner countries’ domestic law? I think technology is the answer there as well, with anonymized data sharing that’s going to allow watchlists to interact with transactional data in a way that professionals can make decisions while protecting the privacy of their citizens. That’s the next frontier that we really need to work on.”
- He’s been on the ground since 2001. McAleenan isn’t an outsider who wrote a college thesis on homeland security. He’s lived and breathed homeland security for nearly two decades. You can hear in the words he uses that he’s experienced the ups and downs of security and is cognizant of the problems we now face. “Two weeks ago, I briefed the media and testified in Congress that our immigration system was at the breaking point. That breaking point has arrived this week at our border,” McAleenan said in El Paso, Texas.
- He’s a true patriot. Arguably the most impressive aspect of McAleenan is what brought him to serve his country in the first place. He had a thriving private law practice that he abandoned for one very important reason. Shortly after September 11, 2001, McAleenan shut down his practice and applied to join the FBI. He was driven by a patriotic duty to get involved and make certain nothing like that ever happened again. In November 2001, McAleenan moved to Washington DC and set to work establishing the embryonic Office of Antiterrorism in Washington, DC. Two years later, he was promoted to its executive director.
Cabinet members must be judged on their actions, not their history before getting the job. But if history is any indicator of what his actions will be as DHS chief, we may finally see positive movement in our battle at the border.
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