Trump's pick to lead border security wins support from Bush- and Obama-era officials

PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., Jan. 31, 2017.PlayAndrew Harnik/AP Photo
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Top Homeland Security officials from not only past Republican administrations but also Barack Obama's administration have signed onto a letter to Congress expressing “enthusiastic support” for President Trump's pick to lead border enforcement for the U.S.

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The White House announced Thursday that Kevin McAleenan is the president's nominee to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security in charge of preventing the illegal entry of goods and persons into the country.

More than a dozen Republicans -- many of them former border patrol chiefs -- are among the signers of a letter sent to Congress on Thursday in support of McAleenan's nomination. But so are former President Obama's most-recent homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, and deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.

"Each of us has worked directly with Mr. McAleenan and can personally attest to his honesty, integrity, patriotism, and commitment to the homeland security mission and to the security of the United States," reads the letter signed by eight former high-level Homeland Security officials in the Obama administration and another nine who served at senior levels under former President George W. Bush, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

McAleenan is “supremely qualified” to lead the border protection agency, the letter says.

McAleenan in recent months has served as acting commissioner for border patrol. That role put him and his agency at the center of controversy and confusion earlier this year over the Trump administration's first executive order, signed in January, restricting travel into the U.S. of people from several Muslim-majority nations.

He was one of the first administration officials to publicly concede missteps with the executive order, telling reporters in late January, “I think it's fair to acknowledge that communications, publicly and interagency, haven't been the best in the initial rollout of this process.”

After the president's Jan. 27 executive order on immigration and refugees was put on hold by a federal judge, the White House replaced it in early March with a new, somewhat less broad executive order designed to withstand legal challenges.

McAleenan as acting commissioner has also been shepherding administration efforts to build a “wall” along the U.S. border with Mexico, as called for by President Trump. The Customs and Border Protection agency has been identifying priority areas for building a physical structure along the border and is soliciting design proposals from outside companies.

McAleenan left a "legal career for public service” after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the letter supporting him states. He has ever since “faithfully served as a career civil servant,” regardless of which party has been in control of the White House, the letter says.

Prior to becoming acting head of the border protection agency, McAleenan served as its deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, overseeing 60,000 employees and a $13 billion budget. Previously, as assistant commissioner of the agency's field operations, the letter said, “he led agency operations” to facilitate “lawful trade and travel at 329 ports of entry” across the country and at 70 locations overseas.

“In these critical national security roles, Mr. McAleenan has led [the agency's] efforts to secure our borders … in pursuit of [its] priority mission to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States,” the letter said. “He has also developed and implemented innovations that have facilitated the U.S. international arrival and departure process, both improving our security and making [the border protection agency] more efficient – and in the process saving the government and travel industry millions of dollars.”

In 2015, McAleenan received a Presidential Rank Award, the nation’s highest civil service award. He earned his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and a bachelor of arts from Amherst College.

The others who signed the letter to the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees nominations to the Customs and Border Protection agency, are: former deputy secretaries James Loy, Michael Jackson, and Paul Schneider; former commissioners of the agency Robert Bonner, Ralph Basham, Alan Bersin, and Gil Kerlikowske; former acting commissioners Jayson Ahern, Tom Winkowski, and David Aguilar; former border patrol chief Michael Fisher; and former deputy border patrol deputy chiefs Ron Colburn, Kevin Stevens and Luis Barker.

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