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CBP Commissioner McAleenan Becomes DHS Acting Secretary

President Trump announced on 7 April the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as well as the appointment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan as acting secretary of DHS. Nielsen had been chief of staff to General John Kelly when Kelly served as the Trump administration’s first secretary of DHS. Following Kelly’s appointment as White House chief of staff in July 2017, Nielsen initially moved to the White House as the principal deputy chief of staff under Kelly and a few months later she was sworn in as DHS secretary.

Kelly has since left the White House, and while rumours had circulated in the past about Nielsen’s tenure as DHS secretary, there had been no recent discussion of her imminent departure. On 1 April, she represented the United States at bi-lateral security meetings in London and was scheduled to travel to Paris for a G7 meeting on 5 April. Instead, she returned to accompany Trump on a tour of the U.S.-Mexic0 border and on 7 April she was called to the White House where she submitted a resignation letter. Trump then announced in a tweet that McAleenan would now serve as acting DHS secretary.

McAleenan practiced corporate law in California following his 1998 graduation from the University of Chicago Law School. Shortly after the attacks of 11 September 2001, he joined the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection as a career official. He helped establish a new CBP Office of Antiterrorism, eventually becoming its executive director. McAleenan became the area port director of Los Angeles International Airport in 2006 and in 2011 he rose to acting assistant commissioner of CBP as the head of the Office of Field Operations. He was promoted to CBP deputy commissioner in 2014 and was confirmed as commissioner by the Senate in March 2018.

As secretary of DHS, McAleenan would have overall supervision of not only CBP but also U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (in charge of visa and green card applications), the U.S. Secret Service (which guards the president, his family and others designated as needing protection), the Coast Guard, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (which assists after natural disasters).

With McAleenan as acting secretary of DHS, CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez is expected to serve as acting head of CBP. Perez previously served in many positions at CBP, including as director of field operations for the New York field office, port director in Detroit, as well as the first director of the Customs–Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) in Washington, D.C. beginning in 2002. Perez held various positions as a programme manager in CBP headquarters from 1997 through 2001 and began his career with the U.S. Customs Service in 1992 as a Customs inspector in Newark, New Jersey. Perez is a career member of the Senior Executive Service and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Rutgers University.

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