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Chief of Border Patrol leaving agency

Eight months after he was tapped to lead the U.S. Border Patrol, Mark Morgan is leaving the agency.

Morgan, a former FBI agent who was tasked with leading the 19,828 member agency, was the first Border Patrol chief to be hired from outside the agency's ranks, a move that rankled the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents around 16,000 Border Patrol agents.

It was not immediately clear whether Morgan resigned from his post or was asked to leave the agency, but his last day will reportedly be Tuesday. 

TucsonSentinel.com asked for comment from Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but officials have yet to respond to that request.

CBP's acting commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan, thanked Morgan "for his unwavering dedication to our border security mission" in a brief online statement.

This means that two of the agencies tasked with border security under President Donald Trump do not have a leader, as R. Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Border Patrol's parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, retired last Friday.

Morgan's departure comes on just a day after President Donald Trump signed executive orders pushing Homeland Security to begin building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, along with limiting the acceptance of refugees from several countries, and punishing "sanctuary cities" for refusing to hold immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In June, Kerlikowske praised Morgan's "strong law enforcement and leadership credentials" noting that among other duties, Morgan had a 20-year career as an FBI agent, including a stint as Special Agent in Charge of the El Paso Division.

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Morgan also lead CBP's internal affairs division, following the controversial tenure of James F. Tomscheck, who was ousted over criticism that the agency was failing to properly investigate accusations of abuse and excessive force by agents and officers.

Tomscheck later sought federal whistleblower protection and said that several deadly force incidents by Border Patrol agents were "highly suspect" and that officials consistently changed facts to make a case to justify shootings.

In the last year, the agency has publicly released the result of eight use-of-force investigations, and the agents involved were cleared each time.

However, federal prosecutors are taking one agent to trial for a cross-border shooting.

Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz is facing trial for second-degree murder for shooting and killing 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in October 2012.

At the same time, the agency has been hit with a class-action lawsuit that said detained immigrants are regularly held for more than 24 hours in dirty, cold and overcrowded cells, where they experience sleep deprivation and other problems, potentially violating the agency's own standards.

In November, a federal judge said that advocates for detained immigrants had presented "persuasive evidence that the basic human needs of detainees are not being met" and issued a preliminary injunction against Tucson Sector officials.

Morgan was almost immediately unpopular with the executive board of the NBPC, which argued in an op-ed that Morgan's hiring had shunted aside "the most qualified applicant" Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello, and that Morgan was a "disgrace to the Border Patrol."

In December, Morgan wrote an email sent to all Border Patrol agents, and defended comments he made to Congress.

Obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, Morgan wrote that the transition to the Trump administration was "an absolutely exciting time - as we have a great opportunity to 'tell our story.'" And, he said that while he supported comprehensive immigration reform, he did not support "blanket amnesty."

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Instead, Morgan said he wanted reform to the "numerous policies and laws" that impede Border Patrol agents. This includes increasing the use of Consequence Delivery Systems, which includes the fast-track deportation procedure known as Operation Streamline, limiting the use of Voluntary Release, and increase the use of Expedited Removal, where agents quickly process and deport immigrants, and ending the "abuse" of the asylum process. 

Steve Kilar, a spokesman with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said that the person who succeeds Morgan "needs to prioritize accountability and officer training in order to reduce the use of excessive force and unconstitutional practices like racial profiling."

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