Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was prevented from speaking at an event Monday morning in Washington after repeated interruptions by protesters.
McAleenan, standing at the podium, immediately met vocal opposition from at least four protestors in the audience who stood with long black cloths inscribed with white writing that read, “Stand with immigrants,” and “Hate is not normal.”
The protestors broke into a chant, “Immigrants are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back. What do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, sitting beside McAleenan, pleaded with the protestors to stop. “Please, thank you very much. That’s enough now. We respect your right to protest, but in respect to the audience who wants to hear the speaker, please.”
But after repeated attempts to speak, McAleenan left the stage.
Later Monday, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement alongside McAleenan’s prepared remarks, in which he touted a drop in border arrests.
“The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to free speech and assembly,” the statement reads, adding: “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.”
Monday’s event at the Georgetown University Law Center comes against the backdrop of a series of immigration policy changes, including most recently, a proclamation that will bar immigrant visa applicants from entering the United States unless they can prove they will have health insurance or the means to pay for medical care.
The protestors also listed the names of migrants who have died in custody.
Event organizers for Monday’s event regretted that McAleenan was unable to deliver his keynote address.
“In a democracy, it is important to hear from all sides on public policy issues, including from those who are instrumental in developing and implementing policy, whether or not we agree with them, and MPI remains committed to that belief,” said Andrew Selee, the president of the Migration Policy Institute, one of the event’s organizers.
“By drowning out the Secretary’s remarks, the protestors 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 added.
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., another of Monday’s organizers, also weighed in.
“We respect the point of view of the individuals and organizations who opposed the participation of Acting Secretary McAleenan,” said CLINIC’s executive director Anna Gallagher in a statement. “However 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.”