Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen Has Resigned, Here’s What Happened Under Her Tumultuous Tenure
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is stepping down in a move that signals the end of a controversial tenure. During her short time as secretary, Nielsen oversaw the “zero tolerance” policy in 2018 that resulted in the separation of thousands of families attempting to cross at the US-Mexico border. President Trump tweeted about Nielsen stepping down amidst reports that he wasn’t satisfied with her performance. This comes as the number of Central American people illegally entering the country has surged, which was a big factor in Nielsen’s resignation. While Nielsen might be leaving, the damage to the U.S. immigration system is done and the victims of the cruel policies are forever changed by the experience. Here’s Nielsen’s legacy at DHS.
More than 2,700 families were separated, two children died, and troops were deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border during Kirstjen Nielsen’s leadership.
Nielsen will be remembered for overseeing the widespread separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border last year. More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents, including families legally presenting themselves at the border for asylum. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program in May 2018. President Trump later folded and rescinded the policy after pressure from both parties.
She had defended the “zero tolerance” policy for border crossings and continued to insist there was no official policy for separating families. However, the fact remains that the Trump administration did implement the policy and Nielsen’s Department of Homeland Security enforced it.
As the number of asylum seekers grew and caravans headed to the U.S-Mexico border, Nielsen requested more help.
Last October, 5,200 troops were deployed to support 16,500 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers along the southern border to help with the incoming caravan. Many called the move an election-year ploy to incite hatred and fear.
It was the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal
Nielsen oversaw a huge increase in immigration detention that has been widely criticized for inhumane conditions.
Nielsen has presided over a record number in immigration detentions due to controversial policies. The number of detained immigrants had grown from slightly over 40,000 in fall 2018 to 50,000 in early 2019. Images of children in chain link cages where a common sight in many of these facilities and caused an uproar with many immigration rights groups.
She was also behind the Migrant Protection Protocols where hundreds of Central American asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico to wait for their U.S. immigration court dates. The policy, which was announced in January, was struck down by a federal judge on Monday.
The resignation also comes days after the U.S. government said it could take up to two years to reunite migrant children separated at the border with their parents due to poor record keeping prior to April 2018.
The resignation got a reaction from many in Congress who are hopeful to see
change in the department.
Senator Kamala Harris tweeted that Nielsen’s resignation was “long overdue” and wouldn’t support a new nominee that “does not forcefully denounce this administration’s policy of separating families at the border.
Hilary Clinton chimed in as well saying even after the resignation, nothing much has changed. “Let’s be clear: This administration’s dehumanization and cruelty toward migrants will not stop after Kirstjen Nielsen leaves office. It is their principal policy,” Clinton tweeted.
What’s next for the Department of Homeland Security and will anything change after Nielsen’s resignation?
In her resignation letter, Nielsen said it was the right time for her to step down. She also noted that her successor would need to make changes to existing immigration laws before the border could be secured.
It was announced less than a day later that Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Protection, will serve as acting DHS secretary until a formal successor is nominated.
While Nielsen’s tenure was marked with controversy, it was also fueled by an administration determined to make a statement with it’s policies at the border. With a growing number of asylum requests and overcrowded detention centers, Nielsen’s departure was expected.
While Trump could nominate someone who is “more aggressive” when it comes to border policy, he’s going to have to get through the U.S. Senate. If the Trump administration has proven anything is it doesn’t matter who leaves their position because they’ll find someone who will satisfy their demands.