Democrats say good riddance to ‘cruel’ homeland security chief who wasn’t tough enough for Trump
Todd J. Gillman
The Dallas Morning News
The abrupt resignation of President Donald Trump’s third homeland security chief in two years gave no pleasure even to those who viewed her as an enabler — someone who never seemed eager enough for Trump to pursue harsh anti-immigrant policies, but did so anyway.
Kirstjen Nielsen wasn’t tough enough for Trump. The ongoing spike in illegal border crossings casts doubt on his approach and threatens to undermine a signature campaign theme.
For immigrant advocates and 2020 Democratic contenders, Nielsen has been the face of cruelty– clashes with tear gas at the border, children taken from parents. Her departure provides political fodder but little comfort, given Trump’s demands for ever more severe policies.
“She leaves behind a troubled legacy at the Department of Homeland Security. She put in place some of the president’s most brutal policies relating to the treatment of asylum seekers,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“I’ve had conversations with Republican colleagues over the last year or so who swear that she was reluctant to impose some of President Trump’s most egregious policies. But ultimately she implemented them, whether she did it quickly or slowly,” he said. “She got caught up in President Trump’s anti-immigration machine.”
Trump has eyed two Texans for the post.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the former governor, turned it down 18 months ago. He was being floated again for the vacancy. Trump passed on Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, deeming him not sufficiently hardline on immigration.
The president announced Nielsen’s resignation on Twitter before she had the chance. In a letter provided Sunday night by her office, she said the resignation was effective immediately, though hours later she agreed to stay through Wednesday to ease the transition.
Praise from top Republicans focused on her devotion to public service, and generally glossed over her role in family separation and other controversies.
McCaul, who chaired the House Homeland Security Committee for six years, called her “a principled voice on national security issues [who] wholly understands the complex threats we face.” But like many Republicans, he made no detailed mention of her role in crafting or implementing immigration and border security.
Democrats pulled no punches.
Texans Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro–Joaquin’s twin — were among the first presidential contenders to issue messages of good riddance.
“She leaves behind a very shameful legacy, a legacy of cruelty,” Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and federal housing secretary, told MSNBC. “It’s even worse because this president seems hell-bent on finding somebody that will be even more cruel than she was.
At the height of the family separation crisis, O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, led demonstrations at the Tornillo tent city where migrants were being detained.
“Let’s unite & do everything in our power to elect a president who will not allow her or his DHS Secretary to separate families, tear gas kids, put children in desert tent camps, inflict irreversible damage not only on our fellow human beings but on the conscience of this country,” he tweeted after Nielsen’s resignation.
Sen. Kamala Harris called the departure overdue: “Kirstjen Nielsen misled the American people and defended Trump’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents. It was long past time for her to go.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren asserted that Nielsen’s “legacy of tearing innocent families apart will follow her for the rest of her life–and she should be ashamed of the role she played.”
Roughly a year ago, Nielsen resisted ordering that would pave the way for mass detentions by allowing for the routine separation of migrant children from their parents. Her stance infuriated Trump, according to reporting from The New York Times. But she did sign that memo, and the separations proceeded.
Trump’s zero tolerance policy, requiring criminal prosecution of every adult migrant caught crossing the border without permission, went into effect on July 1, 2017. About 47,000 children have been detained between then and June 25, 2018, when a federal court order forced the government to stop separating families.
But Customs and Border Protection – a major component of Nielsen’s department — didn’t have a searchable database of separated families until nine months into the separation policy. On Friday, the Department of Justice said in a court filing that it could take to two years to identify and reunite all of these children with their families.
Texas Democrats piled on as Nielsen departed.
By implementing “Trump’s cruel family separation policy,” she “helped to create the chaos and humanitarian crisis at our border,” asserted Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.
Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso demanded Nielsen’s resignation two weeks ago and called her “profoundly incompetent,” noting that two migrant children had died in the custody of her department in recent months.
“She was the chief cheerleader for the cruelest immigration policies of this generation,” she tweeted.
“Nielsen ripped families apart and put children in cages. God help us with what may come next,” tweeted Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Houston.
Said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, “Separating children from their parents, locking them up in cages, and shooting them with tear gas is how Secretary Nielsen will always be remembered. These actions will haunt the Trump Administration.”
McCaul was considered a front-runner for the post in fall 2017, after Trump moved the previous secretary, John Kelly, tapping him for White House chief of staff. Perry, now the Energy Secretary, had declined the job and urged Trump to look at his fellow Texan, calling him “ideal.”
McCaul advised Trump on national security during the 2016 campaign. He was openly skeptical of Trump’s vision of a border wall, though he later pushed for a $10 billion package that finessed the issue by providing both for barrier construction and other security measures.
Even before Nielsen and Trump parted ways, 41 civil rights, immigrant advocacy and Democratic affiliated groups publicly called on Fortune 500 companies to blacklist Nielsen and other senior administration figures involved in crafting, executing or publicly defending the policy of separating migrant children from parents.
The groups took out a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times featuring a red Trump campaign-style hat that, instead of “Make America Great Again,” conveys the message, “Put Kids in Cages.”
“Children were torn away from their parents and placed in cages. It was an image the Trump administration hoped would send a message to migrant families heading north for asylum: if you come here, this could happen to you,” the groups said in an open letter to CEOs on Saturday that lists Nielsen and 26 other cabinet members and senior officials. “They should not be allowed to seek refuge in your boardrooms or corner offices.”
©2019 The Dallas Morning News
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.