WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the resignation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Ron Vitiello, just days after her own. Nielsen resigned on Sunday after President Trump declared that he would look for “tougher” candidates to head the DHS.
Major news outlets are speculating whether Nielsen and Vitiello’s resignations were forced after comments from anonymous White House officials.
Vitiello had previously been slated to run ICE in a permanent capacity, though Trump withdrew the nomination last week amid an overhaul of the administration’s immigration policy. So far, 30 senior officials have either quit, been fired or have been eased out of their positions in Trump’s administration.
CBS reported on Monday that Trump confirmed the news about Nielsen’s resignation in a tweet.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position,” the president said. “(And) I would like to thank her for her service.”
Trump also announced that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, will become acting secretary of the DHS.
“I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job,” he said.
Speaking in front of reporters at her house on Monday, Nielsen said that there was a “humanitarian crisis” at the border. An unnamed senior U.S. official told the Washington Post that Nielsen’s departure is part of a massive DHS overhaul directed by Trump adviser Stephen Miller.
Nielsen and the Trump administration came under intense scrutiny last year for their zero-tolerance policy at the border that resulted in the separation of thousands of families. Nielsen vigorously defended the administration’s policy of expanding prosecutions at the border that led to an increasing number of these separations.
Speaking to the White House press corps in 2018, she deflected blame on congressional “loopholes” and the previous administration that mandated separating a child from their parents if the adults had broken a law.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) took to twitter on Tuesday to respond to growing demands to prevent Nielsen from being employed to top private sector positions.
“In stealing thousands of children, deporting their parents, (and) refusing to provide info for reunification, Sec. Nielsen oversaw one of the largest-scale human rights violations in recent history,” she said. “Awarding her a lucrative deal or prestigious post is to legitimize+celebrate that abuse.”
Advocacy groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued an open letter to the CEOs of the country’s biggest companies, urging them not to hire those involved in the Trump administration’s border policy.
“Some of these individuals have left the administration in recent months,” the letter said. “Regardless of when they leave, they should not be allowed to seek refuge in your boardrooms or corner offices. Allowing them to step off of the revolving door and into your welcoming arms should be a nonstarter.”
On Friday, April 5, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Warren) and 19 bipartisan lawmakers from across the country sent a letter to both Nielsen and Vitiello expressing strong opposition to the potential deportation of an estimated 1,000 Iraqi nationals who were put at risk by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling in the Hamama v. Adducci case on April 2.
“The Hamama case shows that having a chance to access the immigration court matters,” the letter said. “Iraqis with longstanding order are reopening and winning their cases because, in fact, removal to Iraq is extremely dangerous. However, they can only do so if they can access the immigration court system in the first place.”
The letter came ahead of an anti-deportation rally in Sterling Heights that brought together effected families and lawmakers.
Nabih Ayad, an attorney and the founder of the Arab American Civil Rights League, said he finds Trump’s attempts to restructure DHS a grave signal for what’s ahead.
“I think every American should be concerned about what kind of tone we are setting for our children and grandchildren and what kind of message we are sending to the world,” Ayad said. “The former secretary has left a legacy of something no one should be proud of. We can only wonder how much more extreme things can get. He wants to stop people from applying for asylum; he wants to build a wall on along the border. You ask yourself how a secretary that went to the extremes of separating families at the behest of the president was not ‘tough’ enough for him.”