Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen leaving Trump administration amid surge of migrants on U.S.-Mexico border

Texas Tribune News

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen takes part in a Federal Commission on School Safety meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2018.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen takes part in a Federal Commission on School Safety meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2018.
 REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Donald Trump announced Sunday that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was leaving the administration, marking the exit of a second top immigration official in a matter of days as the White House continues to grapple with an influx of migrants on the southern border.

Replacing her on an acting basis will be Kevin McAleenan, who currently serves as the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Trump said Sunday. The announcement on Twitter came shortly after Trump and Nielsen met at the White House, according to two senior administration officials.

“Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Trump tweeted Sunday evening. “I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary for @DHSgov. I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!”

The meeting between Trump and Nielsen was not disclosed on the president’s public schedule that was distributed by the White House, and it came three days after the White House abruptly yanked the nomination of Ronald Vitiello, who had been picked as Trump’s director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The president later signaled that he wants the nation to go “in a tougher direction” on immigration enforcement.

It was not immediately clear whether Nielsen resigned or if Trump fired her. One senior administration official said Nielsen “did not go with the White House with the intention of resigning.”

In the past week, Trump has grappled with a response to the surge of migrants at the border, most notably by threatening to close off the U.S.-Mexico border but backing off within days after pleas from business leaders and Republican lawmakers who warned that a border closure could be devastating to the economy.

Trump toured the border in Calexico, Calif., on Friday and spoke at a roundtable with border and immigration officials to make a case to the public and to Congress for tougher enforcement policies. Nielsen joined him on that trip and appeared at the roundtable.

The number of apprehensions at the southern border soared in March, to nearly 100,000 arrests compared to 58,000 in January, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Much of the surge is attributable to Central American families who are seeking asylum in the United States.