The New York Times reported Thursday that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen nearly resigned after President Donald Trump castigated her in front of the entire cabinet a day earlier. Trump reportedly went on a tirade against Nielsen and other cabinet members over what he perceived as a lack of progress in fighting illegal immigration to the United States, and after the meeting, Nielsen drafted a resignation letter but didn't submit it, two sources told The Times.
As homeland security secretary, Nielsen is in charge of the 20,000 border patrol agents at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A source familiar with the discussions told The Times that Trump yelled at Nielsen and the rest of his cabinet about Mexican immigration to the United States, and expressed his belief that DHS hasn't done enough to close loopholes that allow undocumented immigrants to enter the country. The president was especially angry at what he saw as Nielsen's resistance to his order to split up immigrant families who cross the border illegally, sources told The Times.
Nielsen became the secretary of homeland security in December after her predecessor, John Kelly, left to serve as Trump's chief of staff. According to The Times, she told associates after the meeting that she doesn't think she should continue to serve if Trump is unhappy with her performance.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the administration will soon begin separating immigrant parents from their children when families are caught crossing the U.S.—Mexican border illegally, ostensibly as a means of discouraging undocumented families from coming to America.
“If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said at a law enforcement event. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Materially, this means that border agents will refer all illegal crossings to prosecution, which will likely cause more families to be spit up.
Combating undocumented immigration to the United States, especially from Mexico, has been one of Trump's flagship policies since the day he announced his campaign. He's often boasted that illegal border crossings fell during his first year in office; however, they've risen dramatically in recent months, and several sources told The Times that Trump's anger over the issue has grown as well over the last several weeks.
Trump's crackdown on immigrants has faced setbacks in other areas as well as border crossings. His attempt to undo former President Barack Obama's DACA program, which shielded certain undocumented immigrants from deportation, has run into stiff opposition from the courts, with three federal judges blocking the administration from rescinding DACA. Similarly, Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country was never implemented, and although he's attempted to limit immigration to the United States from Muslim-majority countries through executive order, those efforts too are still tied up in the courts.
Similarly, Trump's proposal to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico has gone nowhere. Despite Trump's claims to the contrary, construction on a border wall has not begun, as Congress has refused to grant the president's request for money to build a wall.
After the Times report was published, Nielsen released a statement saying that she agrees with Trump on immigration policy and blaming Congress for failing to take action on the matter.
"The President is rightly frustrated that existing loopholes and the lack of congressional action have prevented this administration from fully securing the border and protecting the American people. I share his frustration," Nielsen said. "Border security is the most basic and necessary responsibility of a sovereign nation. These are complex issues and I will continue to direct the Department to do all we can to implement the President's security-focused agenda."