A protester interrupts the speech of Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan at Georgetown University Law on Oct. 7, 2019. (CSPAN video)

McAleenan Walks Out After Protesters Interrupt Speech at Immigration Forum

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan walked off stage in the middle of his speech at the Georgetown University Law Center Hart Auditorium this morning after sustained interruptions from protesters in the audience.

McAleenan was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 16th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, organized by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), and Georgetown University Law Center.

CREDO Action had sent a letter to the sponsors asking that McAleenan be disinvited, arguing that those carrying out administration policies “should not be treated as if their positions on immigration are reasonable or legitimate in any way” and that “no institution should give McAleenan a rubber stamp of approval or megaphone to spread more hate and lies, especially organizations working toward a more compassionate and humane immigration system.”

A Georgetown Law student and staff petition was sent to Dean William M. Treanor asking that he “not allow Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan to espouse racism, discrimination, and bigotry on our campus.”

As soon as McAleenan began speaking, a handful of protesters in the audience began chanting, “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.” They held signs reading “stand with immigrants” and “hate is not normal,” and called out names of children who have died in DHS custody. A Migration Policy Institute fellow asked the protesters, to no avail, to stop and let the audience hear what McAleenan had to say in order to foster dialogue. The acting secretary tried to continue his speech, but eventually left the stage.

CREDO Action campaign director Nicole Regalado, one of those who disrupted McAleenan’s speech, later said in a statement that “institutions that elevate the architects and enforcers of Trump’s hate and normalize that cruelty can expect to hear from us.”

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., executive director Anna Gallagher said in a statement that the group respects “the point of view of the individuals and organizations who opposed the participation of Acting Secretary McAleenan,” but “we stand by our decision to host key decision makers for this exchange of views and regret that the actions of protesters made it impossible.”

UPDATE 1:30 p.m. EST: The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement on the incident: “The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to free speech and assembly. Unfortunately that right was robbed from many who were scheduled to speak and attend today’s event at Georgetown. Unfortunately the Acting Secretary and the audience did not get the opportunity to engage in a robust dialogue this morning due to the disruptions of a few activists. The Acting Secretary thanked the organizers and returned to work protecting the Homeland and American values. Event attendees would have learned more about DHS’s successful strategy to work with international partners to reduce unlawful migration and end the exploitation of children by smugglers and cartels, and then they would have had the opportunity to participate in an unmoderated question and answer session. For the benefit of all the attendees and members of the press, the Department has released the Acting Secretary’s remarks as prepared.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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