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Opening of One of the Most High-Profile Position in President’s Cabinet after Homeland Security Secretary Resigns

The move appears to be part of broader leadership changes at several agencies within the DHS, following a string of departures in recent days

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FILE - Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019, before the House Homeland Security Committee. VOA

VOA News Center writer Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report from Washington.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw several contentious Trump administration immigration and border policies, will leave her post this week, opening up one of the most high-profile and influential positions in the president’s Cabinet.

The move appears to be part of broader leadership changes at several agencies within the DHS, following a string of departures in recent days.

On Monday, the White House said the head of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) Randolph “Tex” Alles would step down. Three days earlier, President Donald Trump rescinded his own nomination for the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Ronald Vitiello.

The New York Times reported Monday that the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), L. Francis Cissna, is also expected to step down soon, though neither the White House nor the agency has confirmed.

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Director of the United States Secret Service Randolph Alles speaks at the Atlanta Press Club in Atlanta, Feb. 1, 2018. VOA

According to Trump, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Kevin McAleenan — the country’s law enforcement agency at the border and at ports of entry — will temporarily take charge of DHS as acting secretary, which would mean a change in leadership at CBP as well.

Heading in a ‘tougher direction’

The top-down shake-up is said to be motivated by Trump’s interest in more restrictions regarding migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and with immigration overall.

In rescinding Vitiello’s appointment last week, Trump said, “We want to go in a tougher direction” on immigration but did not elaborate.

Nielsen’s departure comes after publicly conflicting with the president late last month over U.S. relations with Central America, and amid media reports that Nielsen did not go far enough in pushing Trump’s restrictionist agenda at the southern U.S. border.

“Secretary Nielsen’s had a rocky tenure… from denying family separations were initially happening to having to justify the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. “This wasn’t altogether unexpected.”

With media reports that Trump wants to reinstate a policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border, the White House on Monday did not issue a flat-out denial of the allegation.

Hogan Gidley, White House deputy press secretary, told reporters: “The separation of families, you know, the president has said before he does not like that. It’s a horrible practice. But Congress has a way to fix that so that it will not be a magnet for people to come here and use children to do it.”

But migration is not triggered by one variable, such as congressional action, rather by several: conditions in migrants’ home countries, policies in the United States, economic variables, weather. And that list changes.

Neither Nielsen nor Trump, however, have publicly acknowledged that the administration’s policies may in fact be contributing to the increased number of border-crossers in recent months, as Dree K. Collopy, chair of the National Asylum and Refugee Liaison Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, suggested in January.

Democrats welcome Nielsen resignation

News accounts say Nielsen had no intention of quitting when she arrived at the White House on Sunday to meet with Trump, but that he was determined to ask for her resignation, which she submitted shortly after the meeting.

White House sources have said Trump often yelled at Nielsen for apparently not being strong enough in curbing the number of migrants trying to enter the United States.

“It is deeply alarming that the Trump administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement following Nielsen’s announcement.

Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, responded by summarizing Nielsen’s tenure at DHS as “championing President Trump’s cruel anti-immigrant agenda” and McAleenan’s appointment “deeply disturbing” given the CBP commissioner’s actions at the border.

Castro went on to say McAleenan “cannot be trusted… based on his record of prioritizing Trump’s harmful policies.”

But Nielsen’s removal and McAleenan’s temporary appointment are not a slam dunk on either side of the political spectrum. Noted immigration restrictionist Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, tweeted that he is “not sure McAleenan would be an improvement over Nielsen.”

Trump has expressed frustration with the situation along the southern border, where hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to escape poverty and crime in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have traveled through Mexico in hopes of entering the United States. Under U.S. law, foreign nationals are allowed to apply for asylum.

Nielsen’s last day in office will be Wednesday, April 10.

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FILE – Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen addresses the media, after Hurricane Maria’s devastation, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Dec. 19, 2017. VOA

The Nielsen legacy

Trump’s immigration policies created tumult at the border, in airports and in the court system. For the first year, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly carried out those decisions.

His tenure largely focused on the first — and subsequent, controversial, and legally fraught — travel bans affecting international travelers and families with relatives abroad. The first successful attempt to cut refugee arrivals also happened under Kelly. Two of the three primary agencies tasked with refugee admissions are within the Department of Homeland Security.

When Nielsen succeeded Kelly in December 2017, she led a shift toward more domestic-oriented policies, namely on the U.S.-Mexico border. McAleenan not only has led an agency that focuses on the domestic aspects of immigration, but who also has experience in law enforcement.

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O’Mara Vignarajah, head of LIRS, said that may reinforce Trump’s interest in clamping down on asylum-seekers.

“We cannot effectively employ a law enforcement answer to what is a humanitarian problem,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “We just hope that Nielsen’s departure doesn’t allow for new leadership to be put in place doubling down on policies to turn away vulnerable women and children.” (VOA)

Next Story

Nancy Pelosi Calls on Trump to Take Down Omar Video Tweet

Pelosi said officials will continue to monitor and assess threats against Omar, and called on Trump to discourage such behavior

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FILE - Rep. Ilhan Omar arrives before NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. VOA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday she has taken steps to ensure the safety of Rep. Ilhan Omar after President Donald Trump’s retweet of a video that purports to show the Minnesota Democrat being dismissive of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The California Democrat also called on Trump to take down the video. Soon after her public request, the video was no longer pinned atop Trump’s Twitter feed, but it was not deleted.

Pelosi was among Democrats who had criticized Trump over the tweet, with some accusing him of trying to incite violence against the Muslim lawmaker. An upstate New York man recently was charged with making death threats against her.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump earlier Sunday, saying the president has a duty to highlight Omar’s history of making comments that others deem anti-Semitic or otherwise offensive and that he wished no “ill will” upon the first-term lawmaker.

Pelosi issued a statement while traveling in London saying she had spoken with congressional authorities “to ensure that Capitol Police are conducting a security assessment to safeguard Congresswoman Omar, her family and her staff.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. VOA

Pelosi said officials will continue to monitor and assess threats against Omar, and called on Trump to discourage such behavior.

Pelosi was among Democrats who had criticized Trump over the tweet, with some accusing him of trying to incite violence against the Muslim lawmaker. An upstate New York man recently was charged with making death threats against her.

“The President’s words weigh a ton, and his hateful and inflammatory rhetoric creates real danger,” Pelosi said. “President Trump must take down his disrespectful and dangerous video.”

The video in Trump’s tweet on Friday included a snippet from a recent speech Omar gave to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in which she described the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center as “some people did something,” along with news footage of the hijacked airplanes hitting the Twin Towers. Trump captioned his tweet with: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”

Critics accuse Omar of being flippant in describing the perpetrators of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. She later sought to defend herself by tweeting a quote from President George W. Bush, in which the Republican president referred to the attackers as “people” just days after 9/11.

Neither Trump’s tweet nor the video included Omar’s full quote or the context of her comments, which were about Muslims feeling that their civil liberties had eroded after the attacks. The tweet was posted atop Trump’s Twitter feed for much of Sunday, with more than 9 million views. It remained lower in the feed after Pelosi requested that the video be pulled.

Sanders questioned why Democrats weren’t following Trump’s example and calling out Omar, too. Democrats who criticized the president over the tweet defended Omar, with some noting their past disagreements with her.

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The tweet was posted atop Trump’s Twitter feed for much of Sunday, with more than 9 million views. It remained lower in the feed after Pelosi requested that the video be pulled. VOA

“Certainly the president is wishing no ill will and certainly not violence towards anyone, but the president is absolutely and should be calling out the congresswoman for her — not only one time — but history of anti-Semitic comments,” Sanders said. “The bigger question is why aren’t Democrats doing the same thing? It’s absolutely abhorrent the comments that she continues to make and has made and they look the other way.”

Omar repeatedly has pushed fellow Democrats into uncomfortable territory with comments about Israel and the strength of the Jewish state’s influence in Washington. She apologized for suggesting that lawmakers support Israel for pay and said she isn’t criticizing Jews. But she refused to take back a tweet in which she suggested American supporters of Israel “pledge allegiance” to a foreign country.

ALSO READ: Trump Sends Undocumented Migrants to Sanctuary Cities

Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who represents Manhattan’s financial district, which was targeted on 9/11, said he had no issues with Omar’s characterization of the attack.

“I have had some problems with some of her other remarks, but not — but not with that one,” he said. Sanders commented on “Fox News Sunday” and ABC’s “This Week.” Nadler appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union. (VOA)