DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigning after clashes with Trump on immigration

Author: PAULA REID/ CBS News
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is resigning, President Trump announced in a tweet Sunday. CBS News first reported Nielsen’s impending departure, which Mr. Trump announced after a 5 p.m. meeting at the White House.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will serve as acting DHS secretary, the president announced.

“Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service,” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday. “… 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!”

Nielsen’s imminent departure is a part of a massive DHS overhaul engineered and directed by top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, according to a senior U.S. official. It’s unclear whether Nielsen is deciding to leave voluntarily, or whether she has been pressured to resign. Nielsen has served as DHS secretary since December 2017, and questions about how much longer she might last have swirled for months as the president voiced his mounting frustrations over illegal immigration levels.

Nielsen’s exit also comes after Mr. Trump announced he wants to go in a “tougher” direction in his nomination for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, after originally announcing Ron Vitiello would head ICE.

One U.S. official told CBS News is it unlikely McAleenan would be nominated as Nielsen’s permanent replacement.

In recent days, Mr. Trump has threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border or slap tariffs on cars made in Mexico coming into the U.S. if Mexico and Congress don’t fix the situation at the border.

Nielsen’s tenure has been rocky at times, with Mr. Trump taking some of his frustrations over illegal immigration out on her. But she was by the president’s side publicly on Friday in Calexico, California, as the president pushed for a tougher stance on illegal immigration.

Nielsen vigorously defended the “zero tolerance” policy resulting in family separations at the border, blaming Congress for a “loophole” in the laws that needs to be fixed. Nielsen claimed in a White House briefing last year that the administration was merely continuing a policy from “previous administrations” that mandates separating a child who is “in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken the law.”

“As long as illegal entry remains a criminal offense, DHS will not look the other way,” Nielsen told reporters at the time.

Major Garrett, Arden Farhi and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

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