US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw President Donald Trump’s bitterly contested immigration policies during her tumultuous 16-month tenure, has resigned amid a surge in the number of migrants at the border with Mexico.
Trump announced Nielsen’s departure on Sunday, underscoring the president’s intent to toughen immigration policy amid a surge in illegal crossings along the southern border.
A senior administration official said Trump asked for Nielsen’s resignation and she gave it.
Trump, who has recently expressed growing anger about the situation at the border, said on Twitter: “Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service.”
In another tweet, Trump said Kevin McAleenan, the current US Customs and Border Protection commissioner, would become acting DHS secretary.
In a tweet, Nielsen said that she would stay on until Wednesday.
“I have agreed to stay on as Secretary through Wednesday, April 10th to assist with an orderly transition and ensure that key DHS missions are not impacted,” she said.
The move came just two days after Nielsen and Trump visited the Mexican border in California together, with the president delivering a stern message to would-be illegal immigrants and asylum seekers: “Our country is full.”
Nielsen, 46, had been DHS secretary since December 2017. Her departure had been repeatedly rumored over the past year, particularly after a wave of anger over the administration’s 2018 family separation policy at the border with Mexico.
A senior Trump administration official said the president’s national security adviser, John Bolton, after a blowup with Nielsen late last year, also recommended to Trump that she should go.
Trump has made a clampdown on illegal immigration a centrepiece of his two-year-old presidency, leading chants of “Build that wall” at his rallies as he has sought to cut back on the number of newcomers entering the United States without proper documentation.
Border Patrol estimates put the number of migrants passing through Mexico at over 100,000 in March, most from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala: the highest monthly figure in nearly a decade, according to Nielsen.
Trump cut aid to those three countries last month in response to the surge.
“When even the most radical voices in the administration aren’t radical enough for President Trump, you know he’s completely lost touch with the American people,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added it was “deeply alarming that the Trump Administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking”.