- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2019

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen submitted her resignation to the White House Sunday as President Trump continued a housecleaning at the department amid the growing border crisis.

She suggested in her resignation letter that Congress has tuned her out and she’s no longer able to be a convincing advocate for Mr. Trump’s agenda.

Her departure follows that of Ronald D. Vitiello as the nominee to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Mr. Trump tossed Mr. Vitiello on Friday, in a move that stunned Mr. Vitiello and apparently also caught Ms. Nielsen by surprise.

Mr. Trump said he wanted to go in a “tougher” direction in ditching Mr. Vitiello and while he didn’t say exactly why Ms. Nielsen was ousted, a source close to the situation said she, too, was not seen as up to the president’s standards for handling the border surge that’s bedeviling the administration.

“Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter Sunday night.

He said he’s named Kevin McAleenan, head of Customs and Border Protection, to act as Homeland Security secretary.

It’s possible Mr. Trump’s firing streak isn’t done yet. One source told The Washington Times last week that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna could also be in the president’s sights.

Mr. Trump followed up his ouster of Ms. Nielsen Sunday night with a new Twitter broadside against congressional Democrats and Mexico, blaming both of them for failure to control the border.

“Our country is FULL!” the president said.

Ms. Nielsen, in her letter, said she was proud of her nearly two years at the helm of the department, but signaled she thought Congress was no longer listening to her.

“Despite our progress in reforming homeland security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” she said. “I hope the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure Americans borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

Democrats weren’t sorry to see Ms. Nielsen go. A number of them had called for her resignation or firing.

“Hampered by misstep after misstep, Kirstjen Nielsen’s tenure at the Department of Homeland Security was a disaster from the start,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

But where Mr. Trump saw his team as too weak, Democrats said they were too rough on illegal immigrants.

That dissonance could make confirming a successor difficult.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer teased that looming fight in his comment Sunday night: “When even the most radical voices in the administration aren’t radical enough for President Trump, you know he’s completely lost touch with the American people.”

Ms. Nielsen had never been a compelling voice for many in Congress, with Democrats refusing to accept her description of an American legal system out of control, creating loopholes and incentives that have fueled the massive surge of illegal immigrants.

Democrats reject that, saying those coming are asylum seekers who deserve quick release into the U.S. They say the solution is to pour U.S. taxpayer money into nation-building in Central America, hoping better conditions there will keep people from leaving.

Mr. Trump did not say whom he would nominate for the position, but for now, Mr. McAleenan may be a more credible voice than Ms. Nielsen.

He signed up for the FBI in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then went to work for CBP as it started up in the early years of the Bush administration. He rose to be deputy commissioner at CBP under President Barack Obama, then was acting director for the first 14 months of the Trump administration before winning confirmation to the job in March 2018. He was confirmed on a 77-19 vote.

While at CBP he’s overseen construction of Mr. Trump’s border wall, and he’s been a strong voice in describing the border crisis — though with a less combative approach than former ICE acting chief Tom Homan or Ms. Nielsen.

“Although Commissioner McAleenan will have his work cut out for him, I am confident the department is in capable hands,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Homeland Security has long been seen as the toughest Cabinet post in the government, overseeing a sprawling department that encompasses cybersecurity, emergency response, border and interior immigration enforcement, airport security, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

Ms. Nielsen was the first secretary with experience in the department, having served in the Bush years before returning under Mr. Trump.

Ms. Nielsen had been a top aide to John Kelly when he was Homeland Security secretary, then took over when Mr. Kelly was moved to be White House chief of staff.

Her tenure had been rocky, with repeated reports that she had disappointed Mr. Trump, who campaigned heavily on cracking down on illegal immigration but who has struggled to do so now in office.

While deportations are up over the final years of the Obama administration, the numbers at the border right now are far worse than anything Mr. Obama saw. That’s forced Homeland Security to restart the “catch-and-release” policies at the border that have become such a black eye on the department.

Ms. Nielsen also helped carry out last year’s zero-tolerance policy, which led to the separation of thousands of illegal immigrant children from their parents when they were caught at the border. The goal was to make the parents face some legal consequences for their illegal behavior — but public opinion and both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill rebelled, calling it cruel.

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