May 5, 2019 / 3:26 PM / 4 months ago

Trump picks Morgan, backer of border wall, to head U.S. immigration agency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he plans to appoint Mark Morgan, a border patrol chief under former President Barack Obama who supports Trump’s border wall, to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters during a meeting with Slovakia's Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Morgan, who headed U.S Border Patrol for six months after a career at the FBI, came out in support of Trump’s border wall in January, urging Trump in an interview with legal news website Law & Crime to “stay the course.”

“I am pleased to inform all of those that believe in a strong, fair and sound Immigration Policy that Mark Morgan will be joining the Trump Administration as the head of our hard working men and women of ICE,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

When Trump took office in January 2017, Morgan was ousted from his post as head of the border patrol. The union that represents border patrol agents had criticized Morgan for supporting Obama’s plans to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Morgan will have to tackle a sharp rise in migrants from Central America that has frustrated Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on a tough immigration stance and construction of a wall that proved popular with his base.

Immigration is likely to be a top issue in the 2020 presidential election, but Trump’s wall has so far failed to materialize amid opposition from Democrats and lack of an agreement on how to fund it.

One of ICE’s main roles is to detain and deport people who entered the United States illegally, while the border patrol’s task is to prevent people from crossing the border illegally.

Trump has said he wants to adopt a tougher approach to immigration amid complaints that his previous team was not doing enough to enact his policies. [nL1N21R134]

In April, Trump withdrew his previous nominee for the post, Ronald Vitiello. The position requires U.S. Senate approval.

The Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is part, has seen a series of departures this year, including its head, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Her deputy, Kevin McAleenan, is now the acting secretary.

Immigrations officials have been tasked with stemming the rising numbers of immigrants arriving at the border, many of them families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. The U.S. government said it arrested or denied entry to more than 103,000 people along the border in March this year, more than double the March 2018 figure.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker

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