Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned Sunday amid President Donald Trump’s growing frustration and bitterness over the number of Central American families crossing the southern border.
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.
Once Kelly left the White House, Nielsen’s days appeared to be numbered, and she had expected to be pushed out last November.
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.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the president recently told Miller he was in charge of all immigration and border affairs.
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.
The Post reported that “six administration officials said Friday that the decision to jettison Vitiello was a sign of the expanding influence that Miller now wields over immigration matters in the White House.”
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"There's definitely a larger shake-up abreast being led by Stephen Miller and the staunch right wing within the administration," a person close to Nielsen told Politico on Monday. "They failed with the courts and with Congress and now they're eating their own."
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 many 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.
“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Nielsen wrote in her resignation letter . “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.”