Family-separating Valkyrie Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s soon-to-be-ex-Homeland Security Secretary, resigned Sunday, reportedly because the president and his hardline anti-immigrant advisers saw her as “weak” on immigration and too observant of federal law for their tastes.
The New York Times reports that Trump recently asked Nielsen, whose department includes both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers,” efforts Nielsen saw as “ineffective and inappropriate.”
Trump had fumed over Nielsen’s inability to halt the surge of migrant families from Central America who are seeking asylum in the U.S. Recently, Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border and cut off aid to the countries the migrants are fleeing: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Publicly, Nielsen has vigorously defended the administration’s past practice of separating migrant children at the border from their loved ones, but she privately balked at the prospect of reinstating the policy, which Trump ended last year after an international uproar over the practice.
From the Times:
The president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.
Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further. The president’s fury erupted in the spring of 2018 as Ms. Nielsen hesitated for weeks about whether to sign a memo ordering the routine separation of migrant children from their families so that the parents could be detained.
In a cabinet meeting surrounded by her peers, Mr. Trump castigated her repeatedly, leading her to draft a resignation letter and to tell colleagues that there was no reason for her to lead the department any longer. By the end of the week, she had reconsidered and remained in her position, becoming an increasingly fierce supporter of his policies, including the family separations.
Several news stories have noted that Trump adviser Stephen Miller, a border hawk and the Trump administration’s self-appointed Valdemort, had a hand in Nielsen’s ouster and is leading a purge of officials at DHS, which aims to replace any recalcitrant bureaucrats with those willing to do the president’s bidding without question.
Politico quoted an unnamed source close to Nielsen, who characterized Miller’s peculiar form of political cannibalism.
“There’s definitely a larger shakeup abreast being led by Stephen Miller and the staunch right wing within the administration,” said the source. “They failed with the courts and with Congress and now they’re eating their own.”
The president announced via Tweet that U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will take over DHS in the coming week until a permanent replacement can be nominated. Advocates for immigration reform are shuddering at the prospects of whom that might be — perhaps nativist Ken doll, Kris Kobach, or even Miller himself.
In a statement released by her office, House speaker Nancy Pelosi summed up the fears of those arguing for a sane and humane U.S. immigration policy.
“It is deeply alarming,” she stated, “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.”