Trump’s Homeland Security purge
Frustrated by the continuing surge of Central American migrants at the border, President Trump this week embarked on a dramatic shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security, pushing out Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other high-ranking officials. Trump reportedly asked Nielsen to submit her resignation after a contentious Oval Office meeting she’d requested in order to plan “a way forward” at the border. Her ouster came just two days after Trump pulled his nomination of Ronald D. Vitiello to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with Trump vowing to find someone “tougher.” The administration also forced out Claire Grady, DHS’s undersecretary of management and second in the line of succession, to make way for Trump’s preferred pick to become acting secretary. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, will now take the reins at the department, which has 240,000 employees and a $50 billion budget, and is also charged with protecting the U.S. from terrorism.
Trump blamed Nielsen for failing to stop the growing influx of Central American asylum seekers, berating her during Cabinet meetings and calling her at home in the mornings to demand tougher action at the border. When Nielsen protested that some of the things Trump wanted her to do were illegal—such as simply refusing to hear asylum requests from migrants or reinstituting family separations—Trump became irate.
Randolph D. Alles, director of the Secret Service, will also leave the administration, with more high-profile departures expected. White House aide Stephen Miller, an ardent immigration restrictionist, has reportedly been pressuring the president to replace the departing officials with fellow hard-liners. In recent weeks, the president has been ratcheting up his anti-immigration rhetoric. “Our country is full,” he said at a Border Patrol station in California. “Can’t take you anymore. I’m sorry.”
What the editorials said
Nielsen deserves no one’s pity, said The Washington Post. “In attempting to placate a president for whom no anti-immigrant measure is beyond the pale, she presided over a season of gratuitous, inept, and ultimately futile cruelty.” Nielsen oversaw and defended the administration’s policy of ripping thousands of traumatized children away from their migrant parents, many of whom the government subsequently lost track of. “The stain of that policy will long endure.” Even more chilling: Trump has decided it wasn’t tough enough. “Immigration Svengali Stephen Miller” got the purge he wanted, said The Wall Street Journal. But what do he and Trump “hope to accomplish?” Migrants aren’t surging over the border because Nielsen wasn’t “tough.” They’re coming because America’s asylum laws and liberal judges practically invited them here. Congress needs to reform broken policies that allow anyone who sets foot on U.S. soil to claim asylum and then wait here until their claims are heard. At the same time, Miller’s “close-the-border restrictionism” is “a dead end.” To solve the crisis at the border, Trump needs “to offer a larger immigration vision” that combines border security, a legal means for foreign workers to fill U.S. labor needs, and some policy change the Democrats want and will support. Sounding tough “accomplishes nothing.”
What the columnists said
Don’t blame the president for demanding results, said Jonathan Tobin in the New York Post. Central American migrants are exploiting our laws, and it’s the Homeland Security secretary’s job to figure out how to stop them from doing it. Life is undoubtedly hard in countries plagued by extreme poverty and gang violence. But “the proposition that everyone living in those nations has a right to live in the United States, because it offers them a better life, is absurd.” Trump should keep firing people until he finds someone willing and able to stop the flood of migrants.
Why not just appoint Stephen Miller to run DHS? said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Nielsen tried to put a civilized face on Trump’s uncivilized policies, only to find out it was impossible to satisfy our deranged president without breaking the law. In the end, even Nielsen had “some vestigial loyalty to the Constitution.” Trump should have the courage of his “racist convictions” and give his 33-year-old nativist adviser the formal responsibility for the radical policies he advocates, which include ending birthright citizenship and major cuts to legal immigration.
Trump will no doubt find a loyal flunky to carry out his bidding, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. So, let’s make Nielsen an example of what happens to Trump appointees who “just follow orders.” She “put babies in cages, traumatized children for life, and then appears to have lied to Congress” by absurdly insisting there was no family separation policy. Nielsen shouldn’t get the kind of plush corporate job or academic post that often go to ex–Cabinet officials. By all rights, “she should be a pariah.”
Worried congressional Republicans are urging Trump “not to fire more top officials,” said Burgess Everett in Politico.com. The purge at Homeland Security “blindsided” GOP leaders, who are fretting over a growing leadership void at the massive department, as well as the prospect of bruising Senate confirmation battles for a host of officials. Republicans are also concerned about the rising clout of Miller in the aftermath of an election in which Trump’s hard-line immigration pitch turned off suburban voters. Trump “thinks it’s a winning issue,” said Sen. John Thune (R–S.D.). “It works for him. It may not work for everybody else.” Nevertheless, “Trump has moved to more formally empower Miller,” said Jeremy Diamond in CNN.com. In a recent Oval Office meeting, the president reportedly told aides that Miller is now the point person for immigration and border issues. But as usual, Trump moved to quickly to counter perceptions that Miller is driving immigration policy. “Frankly, there’s only one person that’s running it,” Trump said. “You know who that is? It’s me.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Newscom, screenshot, Getty