AP

Homeland Security Sec. Nielsen resigns amid border turmoil

Apr 7, 2019, 8:32 PM
homeland security...
FILE - In this Monday, March 18, 2019, file photo, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium in Washington. In a tweet on Sunday, April 7, 2019, President Donald Trump said he's accepted Nielsen's resignation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

by Colleen Long and Zeke Miller

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned on Sunday amid the administration’s growing frustration and bitterness over the number of Central American families crossing the southern border.

President Donald Trump announced on Sunday in a tweet that U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan would be taking over as acting head of the department. McAleenan is a longtime border official who is well-respected by members of Congress and within the administration. The decision to name a top immigration officer to the post reflects Trump’s priority for the sprawling department founded to combat terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Though Trump aides were eyeing a staff shake-up at Homeland Security and had already withdrawn the nomination for another key immigration post, the development Sunday was unexpected.

Nielsen traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday with Trump to participate in a roundtable with border officers and local law enforcement. There she echoed Trump’s comments on the situation at the border, though she ducked out of the room without explanation for some time while Trump spoke. As they toured a section of newly rebuilt barriers, Nielsen was at Trump’s side, introducing him to local officials. She returned to Washington afterward on a Coast Guard Gulfstream, as Trump continued on a fundraising trip to California and Nevada.

Nielsen had grown increasingly frustrated by what she saw as a lack of support from other departments and increased meddling by Trump aides on difficult immigration issues, according to three people familiar with details of her resignation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

She went into the White House on Sunday to meet with Trump not knowing whether she’d be fired or would resign. She ended up resigning, though she was not forced to do so, they said.

Nielsen is the latest person felled in the Trump administration’s unprecedented churn of top staff and Cabinet officials, brought about by the president’s mercurial management style, insistence on blind loyalty and rash policy announcements.

Nielsen was also the highest profile female Cabinet member, and her exit leaves DHS along with the Pentagon and the White House staff itself without permanent heads. Patrick Shanahan has held the post of acting defense secretary since the former secretary, Jim Mattis, was pushed out in December over criticism of the president’s Syria withdrawal plans. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has held his post since January, following John Kelly’s resignation last year.

Her resignation later lacked any sense of controversy — unlike those of others who have left.

“Despite our progress in reforming homeland security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” she wrote. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

Her replacement, McAleenan, has helped shape many of the administration’s policies to date and is considered highly competent by congressional leaders, the White House and Homeland Security officials. But it’s unclear if he can have much more of an effect on the issues at the border. The Trump administration has bumped up against legal restrictions and court rulings that have hamstrung many of its major efforts to remake border security.

Tensions between the White House and Nielsen have persisted almost from the moment she became secretary, after her predecessor, Kelly, became the White House chief of staff in 2017. Nielsen was viewed as resistant to some of the harshest immigration measures supported by the president and his aides, particularly senior adviser Stephen Miller, both on matters around the border and others like protected status for some refugees.

Once Kelly left the White House, Nielsen’s days appeared to be numbered. She had expected to be pushed out last November, but her exit never materialized. During the government shutdown over Trump’s insistence for funding for a border wall, Nielsen’s standing inside the White House even appeared to rise.

But in recent weeks, as a new wave of migration has taxed resources along the border and as Trump sought to regain control of the issue for his 2020 re-election campaign, tensions flared anew.

The final straw came when Trump gave Nielsen no heads-up or opportunity to discuss his decision to pull the nomination of acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Ron Vitiello — a move seen as part of a larger effort by Miller, an immigration hardliner, and his allies at the White House to clean house at the department and bring in more people who share their views, the people said.

Nielsen had wanted to discuss the move with Trump during their visit to the border Friday, but when there was no time, she asked for the meeting Sunday. She walked into it prepared to resign, depending on what she heard. The people described mounting frustrations on both sides, with Trump exasperated at the situation at the border and Nielsen frustrated by White House actions she felt were counterproductive.

Arrests along the southern border have skyrocketed recently. Border agents are on track to make 100,000 arrests and denials of entry at the southern border in March, over half of which are families with children. A press conference to announce the most recent border numbers — scheduled to be held by McAleenan on Monday — was postponed.

Nielsen dutifully pushed Trump’s immigration policies, including funding for his border wall, and defended the administration’s practice of separating children from parents. She told a Senate committee that removing children from parents facing criminal charges happens “in the United States every day.” But she was also instrumental in ending the policy.

Under Nielsen, migrants seeking asylum are waiting in Mexico as their cases progress. She also moved to abandon longstanding regulations that dictate how long children are allowed to be held in immigration detention, and requested bed space from the U.S. military for some 12,000 people in an effort to detain all families who cross the border. Right now there is space for about 3,000 families, and facilities are at capacity.

She also advocated for strong cybersecurity defense and often said she believed the next major terror attack would occur online — not by planes or bombs. She was tasked with helping states secure elections following Russian interference during the 2018 election.

She led the federal agency since December 2017, and was this administration’s third Homeland Security secretary. A protege of Kelly’s, he brought her to the White House after Trump named him chief of staff. She earned a reputation as an enforcer working to corral the chaotic West Wing.

Nielsen, 45, previously served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush and worked for the Transportation Security Administration.

She rose through the Trump ranks quickly — joining the transition team after the election to help guide Kelly through the confirmation process. She quickly became a trusted aide to Kelly, and the two worked together to impose order on a dysfunctional White House that lacked clear lines of command.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said her tenure was “a disaster from the start.” The policies she helped create “have been an abysmal failure and have helped create the humanitarian crisis at the border.”

His Senate counterpart, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said the government needed “steady, informed and effective leadership in the administration and in Congress to have any hope of fixing our out-of-control border security and immigration problems.”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
4 days ago
Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
6 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
7 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
8 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
8 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Homeland Security Sec. Nielsen resigns amid border turmoil