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The president says Obama-era Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan is his pick to lead ICE

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5/5/2019 By Niels Lesniewski / CQ-Roll Call
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President Donald Trump said Sunday that he has selected an Obama-era chief of the U.S. Border Patrol to be the next director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I am pleased to inform all of those that believe in a strong, fair and sound Immigration Policy that Mark Morgan will be joining the Trump Administration as the head of our hard working men and women of ICE,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Mark is a true believer and American Patriot.”

It is the latest in a line of personnel changes at the agencies overseeing immigration enforcement.

The position requires Senate confirmation. And given the recent experience with the expected nominations of Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve (neither of which were ever sent to the Senate), it is worth noting that no paperwork has been received.

Morgan, who has publicly supported Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, led the Border Patrol for about the last six months of the Obama administration.

Morgan is a former assistant director of the FBI, and as Trump has grown increasingly frustrated that his aggressive policies have failed to curb a surge in people crossing the southern border — primarily Central American families and asylum seekers — Morgan has voiced support for the president. He has been appearing on the Fox News Channel in recent weeks, to discuss both immigration policy and the report of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on the investigation into Russian election interference.

For instance, Morgan told “Fox & Friends” back on March 7, the idea migrants — including children — were being held in cages was really a “talking point for the Democrats”

“They’re not cages. They’re actually really nice facilities, and there are chain-link fences within the facilities, but it’s designed so the border patrol agents working there can provide safety and security for the people that are there,” he said.

Trump had named Ron Vitiello to be the ICE director, but the nomination was ultimately withdrawn, with Trump telling reporters in early April that, “we’re going in a tougher direction.”

In public appearances, congressional testimony, and interviews, Morgan has made clear he was auditioning for a new administration job.

“Here’s phase one of what ‘tougher’ looks like, in my opinion,” Morgan told The Times in an interview last month. “They have to stop expecting that Congress is going to do their job. DHS is going to have to address this issue all alone.”

Under current laws on asylum, “the incentive is: grab kid, step one foot onto U.S. soil, and you’re allowed in, never to be heard from again,” he continued. “In the immediate, we have to do something — even if we lose in the courts, we still gotta do something to stop the incentive.”

Morgan did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

If nominated and confirmed, Morgan would replace acting director of ICE Matthew T. Albence, who took over in that capacity last month when Vitiello departed after his nomination was pulled back.

There’s also no Senate-confirmed leader at the top of the Department of Homeland Security.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan is the acting secretary of Homeland Security, which is the third-largest Cabinet department. He took over after the departure of Kirstjen Nielsen, which Trump announced on April 7, as the administration made another turn toward a harder line on immigration policy.

DHS is comprised of 22 agencies and more than 240,000 employees, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Nielsen was a fierce supporter of Trump’s immigration agenda and became embroiled in controversies after the government implemented the “zero tolerance” policy that arrested anyone coming across the southwest border illegally and resulted in the separation of more than 2,700 children from their parents.

Los Angeles Times contributed.

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