Kirstjen Nielsen (SFS ’94) resigned from her position as secretary of homeland security Sunday, marking the 48th senior official to depart President Donald Trump’s administration.
Nielsen has helmed the Department of Homeland Security since December 2017, leading the Trump administration’s immigration policies and supporting the construction of a barrier along the U.S.-Mexican border. Nielsen filled the vacancy left by former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly (GRD ’84), who left the position to serve as Trump’s chief of staff from July 2017 to January 2019.
Nielsen’s resignation is effective immediately. Kevin McAleenan, the current commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, will become acting secretary of DHS, Trump tweeted Sunday.
While Nielsen is proud of her tenure, she believed it was important for her to step down at this time, according to her resignation letter, which she posted on Twitter. Nielsen did not give a reason for leaving the position in her resignation letter.
“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,” Nielsen wrote. “I hope that the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the court sin fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”
Nielsen has faced bipartisan criticism for enforcing immigration policies that separated migrant families, with many, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), calling for her resignation in June 2018.
“DHS @SecNielsen must resign now. She’s allowing Trump to ruthlessly hold vulnerable children hostage, to use them as bargaining chips,” Pelosi wrote in a June 2018 tweet. “This is beyond morally reprehensible.”
Over 1,500 Georgetown alumni signed a petition, first circulated in June 2018, calling for Nielsen’s resignation over her role in the Trump administration’s separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border.
Nielsen violated Georgetown’s values through her role at the Trump administration, Andrea Guerrero (SFS ’15) wrote in a July 2018 op-ed in The Hoya.
“Did Nielsen never sit down with a Jesuit professor or her residency chaplain to discuss the role of compassion in leadership?,” Guerrero wrote. “What about her Georgetown experience galvanized Nielsen to implement a policy that literally tore babies from their mothers’ arms?”
Nielsen has defended her role in enforcing the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexican border as part of a zero-tolerance policy against migrants crossing the border without documentation.
“We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does for doing the job that the American people expect us to do,” Nielsen said in a June 2018 speech. “Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards.”
Trump was reportedly frustrated with Nielsen’s performance in November 2018 and ready to fire her within days despite opposition from then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, according to The Washington Post.
Trump thanked Nielsen for her time at DHS in a tweet Sunday evening.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Trump wrote.
The resignation comes days after Trump withdrew the nomination of Ronald Vitiello to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to CNN.
Nielsen previously worked for the Trump administration as Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS and later as deputy chief of staff in the White House from September 2017. Nielsen has also worked in the Transportation Security Administration and served on the White House Homeland Security Council under former President George W. Bush.
Nielsen’s departure follows a string of resignations and firings from the Trump administration within the past year, including former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in July 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November 2018 and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in December 2018.