Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security and the official often associated with the Trump administration’s controversial policy of separating families at the border, resigned Sunday, following a meeting with the president.
Per The Cox Media Group, Nielsen’s dismissal was announced in a tweet by the president. Trump thanked Nielsen for her serve and announced that Kevin McAleenan, who is currently U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become acting secretary.
The 46-year-old Nielsen, who previously served in the George W. Bush administration, was chief of staff to Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly. When Kelly left that post to become White House Chief of Staff, Nielsen at first joined him in the White House, but was nominated to succeed Kelly at DHS in late 2017. Kelly himself left the administration late last year.
Nielsen’s tenure included implementation of the administration’s new policy, in the spring of 2018, to separate parents and children who crossed the border, although at one point she claimed that there was no such policy. The policy, after a major outcry, was eventually pulled.
Nielsen had been rumored to be on the outs for at least nearly a year. According to a New York Times account in May of 2018, Nielsen was close to resigning, even writing a never-submitted resignation letter, after the president berated her in front of the entire cabinet, because of what was described as “her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders.”
The secretary, however, had visited the border with the president as recently as this past Friday.
According to a CBS News story, which cited an administration official, Nielsen’s resignation is part of a “massive DHS overhaul engineered and directed by top Trump adviser Stephen Miller,” a known immigration hardliner. Also part of that overhaul was the announcement, late last week, that the administration was pulling the nomination of Ron Vitiello to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)
“Frustrations were building on both sides,” a Homeland Security source told Axios. “She was undercut at every turn. She’s done everything she can do. The White House is eating their own.”
Nielsen was the sixth secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which was established following the 9/11 attacks, and the second secretary during Trump’s presidency.
Her resignation and the appointment of an acting secretary means that an unusually high number of cabinet positions, including secretary of Defense and secretary of the Interior, are currently filled by acting secretaries.