So Kirstjen Nielsen, whose legacy will be the most heartless and lawbreaking immigration policy this nation has known in at least 70 years, wasn’t heartless and lawbreaky enough for Donald Trump, who accepted her resignation Sunday evening so he can move immigration policy in “a tougher direction.”
Trump essentially fired Nielsen because he wants a “tougher” approach to the migrant crisis than Nielsen has implemented.
In fact, he has been frustrated with Nielsen for her refusal to break the law:
President Donald Trump has for months urged his administration to reinstate large-scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of meetings at the White House.
Trump’s outgoing Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, resisted — setting her at odds with the president.
According to two of the sources, Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from reinstating the policy, and that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separations.
Three U.S. officials said that Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Patrol who is expected to take over as acting DHS secretary, has not ruled out family separation as an option.
The policy McAleenan would consider, according to the officials, is known as “binary choice” and would migrant parents the option between being separated from their children or bringing their children with them into long term detention.
It has become a ritual of the Trump years: Each time President Trump parts ways with one of his top advisers or associates, that person then embarks on an effort to expunge the deep moral stain left behind by his or her service to Trump’s depraved, corrupt, incompetent, and even sometimes criminal designs.
In the case of Kirstjen Nielsen, who has just been pushed out as homeland security secretary by Trump amid his rage over the spike in asylum-seeking families at the border, this process is proving more revealing — and unsettling — than usual.
This act of expungement typically requires one of several types of self-cleansing. The now-banished party reveals that the acts he or she did carry out were done with great, anguished reluctance, or that he or she stuck around to prevent worse from happening, or that Trump demanded numerous acts that he or she just could not bring herself to commit.
Politico reports that Nielsen’s ouster reflects Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller’s consolidation of power inside the administration. Miller is trying to bring in more immigration “hard-liners,” because he is “frustrated by the lack of headway” that the administration has made on immigration.
That “lack of headway” is that migrants keep coming to the border — the number could reach 1 million this year. Most of them are asylum-seeking families, and Trump is in a rage about them, leading him to lurch erratically from one posture to another.
Trump declared a national emergency to build his wall and has threatened to close the southern border (neither of which would actually solve the problem), a threat he has withdrawn and then reiterated in the space of days. He is cutting off aid to Northern Triangle countries (which would make the problem worse), and is demanding that Democrats give him changes to the law he wants (which they won’t do).
Now, as Politico reports, Miller is privately telling allies that the administration is at wits’ end:
Last week, as Trump threatened once again to shut down the border … Miller held a conference call with immigration activists to explain the administration’s position and answer questions.
He has told allies that the administration is out of ideas about how to stem the migrant tide at the border, according to a source familiar with the conversations.
Okay, so what now? New details emerging about the ouster of Nielsen provide a clue as to what Miller’s increasing control might mean in practice.
Among the most indelible moral stains that Nielsen will take into private life, of course, is her role in implementing Trump’s horrific 2018 policy of family separations. We are now learning, via leaks to the New York Times, that Nielsen “hesitated for weeks” before signing the memo authorizing the policy. But Trump castigated her mercilessly in private, leading her to capitulate.
Such leaks will not have the desired cleansing effect, however, because as the Times also reports, Nielsen became a “defender” of such policies. That said, there do appear to be things Trump demanded that she would not do:
The president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.
Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further.
Trump repeatedly demanded that Nielsen break the law, by closing the border to asylum-seeking entirely.
It’s important to appreciate that this demand of Nielsen flows from what appears to be an actual aspiration on Trump’s part. In recent days, Trump has repeatedlysaid our country is “full,” which is another way of saying the same thing: If he had his way, we would not take in a single additional asylum seeker.
Many other things he and Miller have done are all about progressing towards that goal in some way. In multiple ways, they’ve tried to restrict the ways people can apply or qualify for asylum. They’ve lowered the cap on refugees and used bureaucratic tactics to slash those numbers further.
Now they are pushing for changes to the law that would make it possible to detain asylum seeking families — including children — for far longer, and to more easily deport Central American migrant children.
One thing we can be reasonably certain of is that if Trump could get away with it, he’d do far worse things. As The Post reports, Nielsen actually held on to her job for this perverse reason:
Trump told aides last fall that he wanted to fire Nielsen, and he grew increasingly agitated as a large caravan of Central American migrants reached the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego. She appeared to regain her footing after U.S. Border Patrol agents used tear gas to repel a large crowd attempting to break through a border fence — the kind of “tough” action Trump said he wanted in a DHS secretary.
Add to this the fact that Trump repeatedly instructed Nielsen to break the law, and you get an idea of what Trump might be capable of doing. What those things will look like we don’t know, but we may soon find out.
According to multiple sources, the President wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. The President wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the US. He thinks the separations work to deter migrants from coming.Sources told CNN that Nielsen tried to explain they could not bring the policy back because of court challenges, and White House staffers tried to explain it would be an unmitigated PR disaster.”He just wants to separate families,” said a senior administration official.
Trump moved swiftly to announce Neilsen’s temporary replacement. But, characteristically for Trump, he ignored what the law says about that.
“I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary,” Trump tweeted. The law, though, says that the deputy secretary would become acting secretary, and, because there’s currently no deputy secretary, the agency’s third-ranking position, the undersecretary for management, would take over. That would be Claire Grady.
The administration’s lie about a year ago was that family separation was not a Trump policy but a consequence of federal law. In fact, it was a Trump policy, as everyone was able to prove, and he was embarrassed into signing an order rescinding it. Now he wants it back. pic.twitter.com/vB0IAd56n0— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) April 8, 2019
UPDATE: It’s the beginning of a “purge”:
President Trump moved to sweep out the top ranks of the Department of Homeland Security on Monday, a day after pushing out its secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, accelerating a purge of the nation’s immigration and security leadership.
Government officials said three more top department leaders were expected to leave soon: L. Francis Cissna, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Randolph D. Alles, the Secret Service director; and John Mitnik, the agency’s general counsel.
The departures appeared to be part of a housecleaning of officials involved in the Trump administration’s immigration agenda as the president demands a harder line on border security. Mr. Trump on Friday said Mr. Vitiello would be replaced with someone who would move ICE in a “tougher” direction. All of the departing officials were appointed by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Alles received instructions 10 days ago to come up with an exit plan and was expected to leave on his own timeline, according to officials familiar with the internal discussions.
Mr. Trump sought Mr. Alles’s resignation, in part because of the recent arrest of a Chinese woman who was carrying a malware-laced device on the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort property in Florida, exposing holes in the security of the private club. The Secret Service provides protection for the president and the president’s family, which is why most past presidents have restrained from criticizing the agency.
President Trump is going to have a hard time replacing people who will do his bidding. Yes, he has selected career Secret Service official James Murray to replace Alles, but the guy most likely is not an improvement.
We keep hearing that ouster of Secret Service chief is not tied to mar-a-lago and not tied to any one issue. This is highly unlikely to be the case.— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 8, 2019
Cissna, as head of ICE, is an immigration hawk. You won’t find anyone as pro-Trump in policy as him. Hardliners are complaining about his pending ouster.
Roy Beck of Numbers USA calls Cissna “exactly the type of person who needs to be in DHS in leadership.” https://t.co/Is8V4bHo5G— Eliana Johnson (@elianayjohnson) April 8, 2019