Kirstjen Nielsen will leave her post as secretary of Homeland Security, President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.
“I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary,” the president added.
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Nielsen oversaw the implementation of Trump’s contentious immigration agenda, including the separation of thousands of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The 46-year-old Cabinet member was confirmed to the role in December 2017. Almost from the start, she came under fierce criticism from Trump and, later, national security adviser John Bolton over an uptick in illegal immigration.
The news comes after the White House on Friday unexpectedly pulled the nomination of Ronald Vitiello to become director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Vitiello, a longtime Border Patrol official, had already been approved by one congressional committee, but still need the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate confirmation.
A White House aide said Nielsen was told of the decision to withdrawn Vitiello’s nomination two weeks ago, but disagreed with the move.
“I think she thought by stalling on making a plan for new ICE leadership, she would buy time to relitigate the decision,” a senior White House official said.
However, a person familiar with the situation argued that Nielsen was blindsided by the move to drop Vitiello.
Trump said Friday that his administration sought to “go in a tougher direction“ with the ICE role.
The president was widely expected to dismiss Nielsen after November’s midterm elections and surprised allies by keeping her on board. The two have clashed on their approach to immigration and border security from the outset of her tenure, with Trump complaining that she was too soft and regularly pushing her to take measures that crossed legal boundaries, she told allies.
In recent months, the number of migrants arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border — a proxy for illegal crossings — rose to the highest levels in more than a decade. Under Nielsen’s watch, the Trump administration experimented with a range of policies to deter migrants, only to see the number of arrivals continue to rise.
In a resignation letter shared with POLITICO, Nielsen touted the administration’s performance, despite the soaring numbers of border arrests.
“I can say with confidence our homeland is safer today than when I joined the administration,” she said. “We have taken unprecedented action to protect Americans. We have implemented historic efforts to defend our borders, combat illegal immigration, obstruct the inflow of drugs, and uphold our laws and values.”
The letter said she would resign as of April 7, which would make it effective immediately. An initial draft provided to POLITICO misstated the year as 2018.