U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen resigned on Sunday evening after U.S. President Donald Trump had, according to reports, requested her resignation. Ms. Nielsen will stay on until April 10 after which Kevin McAleenan, current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner will take charge as Acting Homeland Security Secretary.
Ms. Neilsen, 46, was appointed to her role in December 2017. She will be remembered most for her role in overseeing the “zero tolerance” policy towards migrants crossing the Mexico-US border , which resulted in the separation of more than 2,700 children from their parents. Ms. Nielsen had resisted the move, advocated by Mr. Trump, for weeks, but finally made a choice in the spring of 2018 to sign a memo bringing to life a policy that was widely seen as an inhumane.
“Nielsen will go down in history as presiding over an exceptionally cruel regime that separated families and violated human rights,” Chennai-born Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted. “I welcome her resignation and believe she should be held accountable for the abuses that happened under her watch.”
Mr. McAleenan was among those who had encouraged Ms Nielsen to sign the family separation memo in 2018, The New York Times reported.
In June last year, a judge had ordered that separations under most circumstances would not be permitted and that separated children had to be reunited with their parents. However, almost 250 families have been separated since — without violating the June order, the government claimed in February this year.
“I said it before, but I really fear for our democracy when the body who creates the laws is telling the body who enforces the law, ‘just don’t enforce the law,’” Ms. Nielsen had told Fox News last month.
Ms. Nielsen was grilled in March by a U.S. House of Representatives committee on the border situation, and questioned repeatedly on whether the enclosures in which children were held were significantly different from dog cages.
The Secretary, who posted her resignation letter on Twitter, hit out at Congress and the courts in the document.
“I hope 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,” she wrote.
Ms. Nielsen’s relationship with Mr Trump has been rocky — she was often berated for not being tough enough, she alternated between resisting some of Mr. Trump’s more outlandish policy requests and first capitulating, then staunchly defending the administration’s policies.
The dissonance between Mr. Trump and Ms. Nielsen was particularly pronounced of late as the Secretary struggled to keep up with her boss’s agenda. Most recently, Mr. Trump had been asking Ms. Nielsen to close the borders and prevent people from seeking asylum. Individuals have, under federal and international law, a right to ask for asylum at recognized ports of entry to the U.S.
A day after Ms. Neilsen’s trip to Central America, Mr. Trump announced, on March 29, that he would be cutting State Department administered foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, three source countries for the migrant caravan. Some 400,000 migrants were apprehended at the border in the October 2017-October 2018 period, compared to the 1.6 million in 2000.
On Friday Mr. Trump withdrew his nomination for Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, Ronald Vitiello, saying he wanted someone “tougher” for the role.
Over the weekend, news emerged that migrants were being kept under a bridge in El Paso — sleeping on the gravel, causing bruising among the children and toddlers in the group. Migrant shelters are no longer able to accommodate the number of arrivals, many of whom are being kept in very harsh conditions.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, announcing Mr. McAleenan’s acting appointment.