DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Resigns From Office, Setting the Stage for “Tougher” Successor

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On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen publicly submitted her letter of resignation over Twitter following a meeting with President Trump. Her resignation letter cited the work she has done in all manner of homeland security, but was specific in addressing how she feels her border security policies have been hampered by the other branches of government. “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.”

The resignation will certainly be welcomed by members of the public who have been following how the Trump administration has handled immigration at the southern border, but the news should also give us a sense of vigilance over whom will replace Nielsen as the head of Homeland Security. Sources in the administration have suggested that Nielsen has not been “tough enough” on immigration for the president’s liking, despite her legacy as a separator of families and a jailer of children under the “zero-tolerance” policy last summer, a policy whose existence she summarily denied at a hearing last month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put out a statement in wary anticipation of Nielsen’s replacement. “It is deeply alarming that the Trump Administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking.”

Nielsen’s resignation comes after a week or two of immigration upheaval, including the suspension of Central American aid and threats of Mexican border shutdowns; these harsh measures follow Congress’s failure to block the presidential veto allowing Trump to treat the border crisis as a national emergency rather than a matter of bipartisan legislation. Then on Friday, the president suddenly withdrew his nomination for Ronald Vitiello as the director of ICE, a move that surprised many even in his administration. “We want to go in a tougher direction,” he explained.

It’s unclear yet what this “tougher direction” will look like, but sources have suggested that Trump’s desire to shut down the border was not a measure supported by either Nielsen or Vitiello. After news of Nielsen’s resignation became public yesterday, the president renewed his threats, tweeting that he wants the U.S.-Mexico border to be shut down because our country is “full.” Several news publications cited Stephen Miller as a driving force behind the president’s latest DHS demands.

Nielsen’s last day in office will be this Wednesday, after which Kevin McAleenan, the current Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, will step in as acting DHS Secretary. Due to his broader, humanitarian understanding of the border crisis, McAleenan will likely hold the position only for a short period of time; he recognizes that immigration stems from Central American violence, not individual lawlessness, and supports using foreign aid as a way to address the root causes mass immigration.