Politics & Government

Border Patrol chief resigns after clashing with powerful union, which backed Trump

Mark Morgan, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, has resigned after only six months on the job, one day after President Trump announced plans to ratchet up immigration enforcement and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Thursday.
Mark Morgan, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, has resigned after only six months on the job, one day after President Trump announced plans to ratchet up immigration enforcement and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Thursday. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The chief of the U.S. Border Patrol has resigned after only six months on the job, one day after President Donald Trump announced plans to ratchet up immigration enforcement and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Thursday.

It was not immediately clear why Mark Morgan – a career FBI official who was the first outsider to lead the agency responsible for securing the U.S. borders – left the agency, though The Associated Press reported Morgan told senior agents he was asked to leave and decided to resign rather than fight the request.

His resignation is effective Jan. 31, officials said.

Morgan had clashed with the powerful Border Patrol union, which endorsed Trump for president and whose leaders were present at Trump’s announcement of his immigration crackdown at Department of Homeland Security headquarters last week.

Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, said in an interview that the union never supported Morgan for the job and appeared to be behind his departure.

The union supported this candidate for president, and now very much appears to be directing things – which is absolutely unheard of in law enforcement.

Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

“The union has been very vocal about someone from outside of the Border Patrol becoming the head of the Border Patrol,” Kerlikowske said. “The union supported this candidate for president, and now very much appears to be directing things – which is absolutely unheard of in law enforcement. The union used their influence to have him removed.’’

A few weeks after Trump’s election, the conservative website Bretibart.com published an op-ed by the executive board of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 16,500 agents. The piece was titled, “The chief Obama gave us is a disgrace.” It criticized Morgan’s leadership of the agency, in part latching onto a statement he made to members of Congress that said he supported “comprehensive immigration reform.” The union called this a partisan view.

We supported President Trump because he was the only candidate who talked about taking action on border security.

Union spokesman Shaun Moran

Morgan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Union spokesman Shaun Moran said he was under orders not to discuss the union’s role in Morgan’s departure.

But responding to Kerlikowske’s comments, Moran said: “We supported President Trump because he was the only candidate who talked about taking action on border security. His actions over the past few days show it was not just campaign rhetoric but a true conviction to protect Americans from the dangers of illegal immigration.”

He accused Kerlikowske of rolling back enforcement operations and “preventing agents from doing their jobs.”

“Gil Kerlikowske had multiple opportunities to work with the union to help protect Americans. He chose not to do so.”

Kevin K. McAleenan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, praised Morgan “for his unwavering dedication to our border security mission” and “his lifelong career in service to the nation.’’ His statement did not explain Morgan’s departure.

Trump has signed executive actions to order the construction of a Southwest border wall and cut off funds to cities that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

The Border Patrol will have an important role in enforcing Trump’s crackdown on the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. The president on Wednesday signed executive actions to order the construction of his controversial Southwest border wall and cut off funds to cities that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. Trump also called for thousands of additional Border Patrol agents. There are now about 21,000.

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, was standing behind Trump as the president signed Wednesday’s executive order on border security. Morgan was not. And in his speech to DHS employees, Trump called on Judd to stand and be recognized.

Morgan, 52, started his career as a Los Angeles police officer before ascending the ranks of the FBI. Kerlikowske chose him for the Border Patrol job, overlooking others who came up through the ranks, to change what is considered, even by law enforcement standards, to be an insular culture. Many agents, including the Border Patrol union, opposed the selection at the time, saying an outsider could never gain agents’ trust.

Morgan told The Washington Post in an interview last September that his first priority was to change the culture of the agency, which had for years faced allegations of an overly confrontational approach in its enforcement that resulted in multiple fatal shootings of illegal immigrants and a lack of accountability in investigating misconduct.

Morgan said he wanted to solve those problems. “ It was a culture of not getting out and talking about the issues, not being transparent about the process and it drove the perception there was a culture problem,” he told the Post.

Two years ago, Kerlikowske had brought Morgan over from the FBI to run the internal affairs office at the larger Customs and Border Protection agency after removing the longtime official in the job. That official had been criticized for failing to investigate multiple allegations that Border Patrol agents had used excessive force on migrants. Morgan was then promoted to run the Border Patrol in July.

During his short tenure, Morgan enforced new use-of-force policies in the agency’s training academy curriculum that encouraged recruits to turn to other strategies to defuse encounters that could get violent. He was working with agents to help them develop better intelligence on drug cartels and smugglers behind illegal border crossings, and was also seeking to create a system to better review cases in which agents fire their weapons.

Law enforcement officials describe Morgan – who was a career, not political appointee – as a careerist, as opposed to being a political partisan.

“He’s not a political guy,” said Jim Pasco, executive director the nation Fraternal Order of Police. “I’ve never heard a bad thing about him – and I work for a union. We hear bad things about everyone.”

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