Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan on Monday walked out of an immigration conference in Washington after multiple attempts to speak over protesters.
McAleenan, who was a keynote speaker at the conference, was met with protesters in the crowd who yelled, "When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"
Protesters yelled the statement multiple times before McAleenan had a chance to speak at the podium. McAleenan said he would like to discuss the challenges the agency has faced over the past year with the immigration crisis, "above the politics and the daily news cycle." But after persistent shouts, McAleenan walked off the stage without delivering his speech.
The demonstrators also shouted names of children who lost their lives in immigration detention centers such as Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the 16-year-old who died in a south Texas ICE facility one day after being diagnosed with influenza, according to NBC News. The conference comes on the heels of President Donald Trump's proclamation Friday that seeks to bar legal immigrants from entry if they cannot prove they can obtain health insurance.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement: "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."
DHS added that the attendees would have learned about the agency's "successful strategy to work with international partners to reduce unlawful migration and end the exploitation of children by smugglers and cartels."
The conference was organized by the Migration Policy Institute and Catholic Legal Immigration Network and held at the Georgetown University Law Center on Monday.
"We very much regret that the keynote address Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan was to deliver today at the 16th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference was disrupted by protestors and could not occur," said Andrew Seele, president of MPI, in a statement, and that "we very much regret" protesters disrupted McAleenan's speech.
"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," Seele said.
"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."
Georgetown University, in a statement, said, "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."