The hollowing out of the nation’s Department of Homeland Security leadership during the president’s declared national emergency at the southern border continued Wednesday, as DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced as one of her final acts the resignation of acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Ron Vitiello.
Vitiello had previously been President Trump’s pick to run ICE permanently, but Mr. Trump announced the withdrawal of Vitiello’s nomination last week, saying he wants to go in a “tougher” direction for the post than Vitiello. The major shifts in leadership at DHS, most notably with the exit of Nielsen, come as top Trump aide Stephen Miller looks to overhaul how the Trump administration approaches immigration. It isn’t immediately clear who will lead ICE in Vitiello’s place.
“During his tenure leading ICE, Ron has been an unwavering advocate for the dedicated men and women who enforce our immigration laws and protect our nation from the illegal entry of drugs, human trafficking, transnational criminals, counterfeit goods, and so much more,” Nielsen said in a statement on her own final day as secretary. “On behalf of DHS I want to thank Ron for his service and dedication, and I wish him the very best in this next chapter of his career.”
The Trump administration is considering how it can tackle record-high levels of border crossings. A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing Tuesday the White House wants immigration officials to grant fewer asylum claims and challenge the Flores agreement that limits how long children can be detained.
The senior administration official didn’t directly disparage Nielsen — although the president’s frequent frustrations with Nielsen have been well known — but the official did say the White House believes Kevin McAleenan will be more effective in implementing White House policy. McAleenan was sworn in as acting DHS secretary Wednesday afternoon.
“Well, I don’t want to disparage Kirstjen Nielsen at all, but I would say in respect to Kevin, nobody is more frustrated than Kevin about the fact that these policy changes haven’t been made — particularly the ones that I’ve mentioned,” the senior administration official told reporters Wednesday.