WASHINGTON - Protesters shouted down acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan at an immigration conference Monday morning, forcing him to leave before he gave his remarks.
McAleenan had been scheduled to speak at Georgetown University Law Center for an annual conference on immigration by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan think tank, Georgetown University Law School and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).
As McAleenan took the stage before an audience of immigration advocates, lawyers and scholars, protesters started chanting, "When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"
Others shouted out the names of migrant children who had died in federal custody.
Another group of protesters held up a banner saying "hate is not normal."
McAleenan tried to start his remarks several times before trying one last time, saying he wanted to go "above the politics and the daily news cycle" to talk about challenges in immigration policy."
He was shouted down, though some of the other audience members appeared to ask the protesters to allow McAleenan to speak.
As protesters continued to chant, McAleenan threw his hands up in the air, said, "OK, thank you," and left.
Activist groups said they disrupted the speech to prevent McAleenan from having a platform to "spread hatred."
"No Trump henchmen should be given a platform to spread hatred or defend the racist, xenophobic policies put into place by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller," said Nicole Regalado, the campaign director of CREDO Action, one of the groups that disrupted McAleenan's speech. "Institutions that elevate the architects and enforcers of Trump's hate and normalize that cruelty can expect to hear from us."
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In a statement released later Monday, the Department of Homeland Security criticized the protesters for not allowing a "robust dialogue" with the acting Secretary and released the text of his planned remarks.
"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 department said. "The Acting Secretary thanked the organizers and returned to work protecting the Homeland and American values."
The acting DHS secretary has been controversial for his implementation of the Trump administration's immigration policies, though he has signaled discomfort with some of those policies.
In an Oct. 1 interview with The Washington Post, McAleenan said he was losing a battle to prevent the department from becoming overtly politicized and said the administration's controversial child separation policy "went too far."
"It's the one part of this whole thing that I couldn't ever be part of again," he told The Post.
In a statement, Andrew Selee, president of MPI, said the disruption to the protest "deprived" immigration advocates and others from an opportunity to engage with McAleenan.
WATCH: Protesters disrupt Acting Homeland Security Sec. Kevin McAleenan remarks. Following multiple attempts to start, he thanks hosts and departs.
Full video: https://t.co/xPU4Fdpliv pic.twitter.com/Up6tygy3JO
- CSPAN (@cspan) October 7, 2019
"By drowning out the Secretary's remarks, the protesters deprived immigration attorneys, service providers, journalists, advocates, business leaders, law students, and many others in the public who were in the audience from hearing his point of view and engaging in a meaningful dialogue," Selee wrote.
Anna Gallagher, CLINIC's executive director, echoed the sentiment.
"This administration has advanced policies that are antithetical to our national ideals and interests and with which we strongly disagree. Yet CLINIC's affiliates who provide legal representation to low-income immigrants must function with the laws and policies as they exist," Gallagher said. "Immigrants who are subjected to these policies do not have the luxury of declining to engage with the current administration."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan shouted down at immigration conference