The United States Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced her resignation on April 7 after being a part of the Trump administration since January 2017.
The current head of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, will be serving as acting DHS secretary until a secretary has been formally confirmed by the Senate. Nielsen marks the 48th major appointee in the Trump administration to have either resigned or been forced out of their position.
Nielsen originally served under John Kelly, Trump’s first DHS secretary, as the DHS chief of staff from January 2017 to September 2017, when Kelly became White House chief of staff. In December 2017 Nielsen was nominated and approved to be the DHS secretary after a Senate confirmation vote of 62 to 37.
It is not entirely clear why Nielsen stepped down from her position, her resignation letter does not mention a reason and Trump’s tweet announcing her resignation also does not mention why. There are some in the White House that has said Nielsen drew ire from Trump for not being harsh enough on immigration in recent months, something Trump will most likely be looking for in a future secretary nomination.
Coinciding with Nielsen’s resignation is the nomination withdrawal of the potential head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ron Vitiello, after Trump told reporters on April 5 that “we’re heading in a tougher direction.” Trump did not clarify exactly what a “tougher direction” meant, though it is possible that that direction is why Nielsen’s left the administration.
Last year, then attorney general Jeff Sessions instituted, as part of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy on immigration, a memo that instructed state attorney’s general to prosecute those crossing the border with greater zeal. The policy leads to families being detained, and the children of those families to be separated and placed into DHS custody.
Nielsen denied that any families had been separated and that if asylum seekers were entering through legal ports of entry, they would be kept together. Based on multiple eyewitness accounts, families were, in fact, being separated from one another, with kids being kept inside warehouses in cages.
This policy was ended by Trump after he signed an executive order banning the policy on June 20 2018, though in recent months he has called for the policy to be reinstated.