Protesters shout down then-acting homeland security secretary at Georgetown Law

First posted November 7, 2019 5:14pm EST
Last updated August 30, 2020 7:10pm EDT

All Associated Themes:

  • Heckler’s Veto
  • Professional Consequences
  • Protest Politics

A small group of protesters interrupted Kevin McAleenan, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as he gave the keynote speech for an event hosted by the Migration Policy Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center on Oct. 7, 2019. After attempting to speak over them several times, McAleenan left the stage; days later, he resigned.

Key Players

Kevin McAleenan is the former acting secretary of homeland security, a position he held beginning in April 2019. He was invited to speak at the 16th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference to discuss the Trump administration’s immigration policies, according to The New York Times

Further Details

As McAleenan took the stage in front of a large audience at Georgetown Law, several protesters stood up and began shouting, reports The Hoya, Georgetown’s student-run newspaper. The protesters chanted phrases like “stand with immigrants” and “hate is not normal” as McAleenan attempted several times to begin his talk. After several minutes, the secretary thanked the moderator and left the stage. He did not return to speak at any point in the conference.

According to The Times, the protesters were law students and advocates coordinated by the immigrant advocacy group CREDO Action. When McAleenan’s participation was announced weeks earlier, hundreds of Georgetown Law students and faculty signed a petition calling for the invitation to be withdrawn. The university, as a matter of policy, did not act on the petition, and ultimately CREDO and some Georgetown Law students to interrupt the speech. 


Law Center issues statement, students and attendees divided over protest response 

Hours after the incident took place, Georgetown Law Center Dean William M. Treanor issued a statement to students, faculty, and staff that read, in part, “We share our partners’ regret that the audience did not get to hear from the Secretary and engage in a dialogue through the Q&A session that was scheduled to occur following his remarks. Georgetown Law is committed to free speech and expression and the ability of speakers to be heard and engage in dialogue.”

DHS released its own statement days later, writing, “The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to free speech and assembly. Unfortunately that right was robbed from many who were scheduled to speak and attend today’s event at Georgetown.” 

Fox News interviewed several attendees who expressed disappointment in the community’s response to McAleenan’s presence; according to The Hoya, however, many Georgetown students stood in support of the messages promoted by the protesters. 

McAleenan resigns

On Oct. 11, McAleenan submitted his resignation to the White House. A source close to the former acting secretary said McAleenan felt he had done all he could, given the current political climate, and that an immigration deal is unlikely to get through Congress in the near future, according to CNN

After receiving McAleenan’s resignation, President Donald Trump said in a statement, “Kevin McAleenan has done an outstanding job as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. We have worked well together with Border Crossings being way down. Kevin now, after many years in Government, wants to spend more time with his family and go to the private sector.”