WASHINGTON — Turmoil intensified on Tuesday inside the agency responsible for securing the nation’s borders as a top official was replaced by an immigration hard-liner and former Fox News contributor who last week pushed for nationwide deportations.
That hard-liner, Mark Morgan, will take over as the head of Customs and Border Protection in July, administration officials said Tuesday.
The move again overhauls leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that is responsible for cybersecurity, disaster relief and enforcing customs, border and immigration law, and that has already been destabilized by a purge of officials just two months ago.
“President Trump’s latest leadership change only worsens the chaos at the department,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “D.H.S. is charged with keeping the nation secure, but the president is putting its leadership through a constant game of musical chairs to fit his political agenda.”
The White House in recent months has installed multiple officials at the department who have gone on television to support Mr. Trump’s more aggressive immigration policies, using certain officials to knock out others without any clear vision for homeland security. None of the homeland security agencies responsible for enforcing immigration policy — Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services — have a permanent leader.
In the new position, Mr. Morgan — currently the ICE acting director who pushed for raids to deport undocumented families last week — will oversee an agency responsible for processing thousands of asylum-seeking families, including children, along the southwestern border. He is succeeding John Sanders, the acting commissioner, who will step down on July 5 as the government’s primary border enforcement executive.
The personnel changes come as Customs and Border Protection faces continuing public fury over the treatment of detained migrant children.
[The Trump administration says it is transferring migrant children back to a shelter in Clint, Tex., that had seen hundreds of children held in overcrowded and filthy conditions.]
Matthew Albence, the deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, will lead that agency, officials said.
In an interview on Tuesday for a coming book about the president’s immigration policies, Mr. Trump acknowledged the turmoil among his top immigration officials.
“I do burn out on people, I do. If somebody’s not really great, I do,” the president said during the interview in the Oval Office. He did not directly address the changes at Customs and Border Protection, but said he had made “good changes” in the people who run his immigration agencies.
“I understand what I want,” he said. “And we’re starting to get there.”
The White House directed Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, to replace Mr. Sanders with Mr. Morgan after multiple White House officials expressed displeasure over Mr. Sanders not being aggressive enough at the southwestern border, administration officials said. Mr. McAleenan complied, hoping to diminish friction with the White House, officials said.
Mr. McAleenan resisted an earlier push by Stephen Miller, the architect behind Mr. Trump’s immigration policy, to appoint Mr. Morgan as the head of Customs and Border Protection, according to current and former homeland security officials.
In 2017, shortly after he took office, Mr. Trump forced Mr. Morgan out as Border Patrol chief. But Mr. Morgan won the approval of the White House after backing the president’s aggressive policies on television. In one appearance on Fox News, Mr. Morgan said that when he looked into the eyes of detained migrant children, he saw a “soon-to-be MS-13 gang member.”
In a letter to Customs and Border Protection employees on Tuesday, Mr. Sanders confirmed his departure.
“Although I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful,” Mr. Sanders, a former chief technology officer at the Transportation Security Administration who helped spearhead the T.S.A. PreCheck program, wrote, “I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of C.B.P. has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career.”
In the months since Mr. Trump forced out Kirstjen Nielsen as the secretary of homeland security, as well as other high-ranking officials in that department, the White House has installed officials aligned with Mr. Miller’s aggressive stance on immigration. The constant turnover comes as a record number of Central American families have entered the United States seeking asylum.
More than 144,200 migrants were taken into custody in May — the highest monthly total in 13 years — filling facilities managed by border agencies that have faced a public backlash over accusations that migrant children have been left hungry and unwashed.
Customs and Border Protection officials said that the facilities were never built to house children and that the migrants should be moved to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Those facilities are also pushed beyond capacity.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, expressed concern on Tuesday that Mr. McAleenan was caught in the White House’s political crossfire. He cited the issues at the border as reason to prioritize consistent leadership at the agency.
“Virtually everyone is in an acting capacity; it’s chaos,” Mr. Durbin said. “And we wonder why we’re having trouble at the border? Because we’re having trouble with border issues in this White House.”
Before he named Mr. Morgan to the agency overseeing the border, Mr. McAleenan had disputed with him over an operation that would send ICE agents into communities to detain and deport about 2,000 undocumented families who have been issued a deportation order or missed a court date.
After Mr. McAleenan pushed back against the nationwide raids this month, Mr. Morgan went around the acting secretary and directly communicated with the president, saying the raids were needed as a show of force to deter migration.
ICE agents and career officials in the Department of Homeland Security were then blindsided when Mr. Trump posted last week on Twitter that ICE would soon begin deporting “millions” of people — something logistically impossible. The roughly 6,000 deportation officers in ICE do not know the exact locations of each migrant.
Mr. McAleenan, in a meeting on Friday, again outlined the risks in the deportation operation, saying it could lead to the separation of undocumented parents from citizen children, according to Trump administration officials. ICE officials, including Mr. Albence, were also worried that the forecasting of the operation had put agents’ safety at risk.
After meeting with Mr. McAleenan, as well as after receiving a call from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday that he would delay the raids for two weeks. He said he would resume the operation if Democrats did not submit to changes in asylum law.
Mr. McAleenan, a former Obama administration official who led Customs and Border Protection, has watched in recent months as Mr. Trump forced out the heads of multiple agencies — ICE, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security — and inserted officials aligned with his aggressive immigration policies.
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who once advocated an end to birthright citizenship and policies that would require employees to speak English, was picked last month to oversee United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for legal immigration. Mr. Trump tried this month to recruit Thomas D. Homan, a former ICE director who has praised Mr. Trump and criticized Mr. McAleenan on Fox News, to serve as border czar. (Mr. Homan has not yet accepted the position.)
“You’ve got the acting secretary of homeland security resisting what ICE is trying to do,” Mr. Homan said on Saturday morning.
Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, who has Mr. Trump’s ear on immigration policy, wrote an op-ed article published by Fox News criticizing Mr. McAleenan as “anti-Trump.”
“His actions in office have been detrimental to both border security and President Trump’s expressed mandate to end illegal immigration and the catch-and-release program,” Mr. Judd wrote.
But Mr. McAleenan has also carried out some of Mr. Trump’s more pressing and controversial policies. As head of the Customs and Border Protection, he helped carry out Mr. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which led to family separations.
This month, Mr. McAleenan helped negotiate a deal with Mexican officials after Mr. Trump threatened the country for not doing enough to quell migration to the border.
After the White House meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump was impressed that Mr. McAleenan stood his ground over the operation, one White House official said. But current and former homeland security officials say he once again faces the challenge of managing an agency in turmoil.
“This perverse game of musical chairs within D.H.S. of the incompetent and craven is extremely perilous for national security,” said Peter Vincent, a former top lawyer at ICE. “We should all be rightfully worried that this is all dangerously distracting from the sacred homeland security mission.”