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McAleenan receives award from El Salvador ahead of DHS departure

Kevin McAleenan and Alexandra Hill
Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan with El Salvador's Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, Oct. 28. Photo: DHS

Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan received the National Order of José Matías Delgado award from the government of El Salvador on Monday morning, a thank you for his key role in advocating for Salvadorans in the U.S. under the Temporary Protected Status program.

The big picture: McAleenan, whose last day as acting DHS secretary is Thursday, is married to a Salvadoran native and has sought to blunt the humanitarian impact of some of the Trump administration's hardline immigration policies, even as his department has carried them out. The White House has yet to announce his replacement.

What's next: DHS' undersecretary of the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, Chad Wolf, has been seen as one leading contender to step in, at least in the near term. The White House's personnel office informed Trump that one favored candidate, USCIS acting director Ken Cuccinelli, could not legally take the acting position.

  • "There's been no one more committed to the DHS mission and the president's agenda than Chad," a senior administration official told Axios.
  • But some conservative hardliners have pushed back against Wolf, who they don't see as sufficiently committed to Trump's immigration agenda.
  • "If Wolf’s background as a lobbyist for employers of H-1B workers doesn’t disqualify him, then his time as chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, who utterly failed at the job, should," Rosemary Jenks, the director of government relations at NumbersUSA, an organization that advocates for stricter limits on immigration, told Axios in a statement.

Trump could still nominate Cuccinelli for the permanent position of DHS secretary, launching a Senate confirmation process.

  • But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he does not support Cuccinelli for any administration position. Cuccinelli was president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has backed McConnell's primary challengers.

Between the lines: McAleenan is getting a warmer send-off from El Salvador than from the U.S. The president and his team have at times viewed McAleenan warily because he served during the Obama administration. Trump has been more enthusiastic about personalities like Cuccinelli and CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan.

  • Meanwhile, McAleenan was subpoenaed by the House Homeland Security Committee and received blowback from panel Democrats for saying he wouldn't testify in his final week on the job.

Go deeper: DHS grants hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans an extra year to leave U.S

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Numbers USA seeks reduced immigration and not an outright ban.