Who Is Kirstjen Nielsen?
You may have seen the name Kirstjen Nielsen overwhelming your Twitter feed over the past few days. And like most causes of strife in 2018, the reason for that is political.
The Florida native currently serves at the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, a post she was appointed to in December 2017 following her three-month tenure as White House Principal Deputy Chief of Staff (say that five times fast). Prior to her work in the Trump administration, Nielsen served as "Special Assistant to the President for Prevention, Preparedness, and Response on the White House Homeland Security Council" under the George W. Bush administration, and founded and served as President of Sunesis Consulting. She earned her B.S. from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service (International Relations) and went on to earn her J.D. from University of Virginia School of Law in 1999.
Nielsen is being called on to resign following a press conference on Monday wherein she blamed the separation of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border (a reported 1,995 immigrant children were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19-May 31, 2018) on Congress, taking the heat off Donald Trump and his “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
The policy in question calls for the prosecution of all adults who illegally cross the border into the United States, meaning the children they bring with them are either placed in the custody of a sponsor (a relative or foster home), or otherwise taken to a shelter under the purview of Health and Human Services.
In response to public outcry regarding the treatment of said immigrant children, Nielsen chose to divert the blame to Congress, arguing that the detainment of “whole family units” is the law and they can’t change their practices until Congress closes loopholes in the current immigration law. (On Twitter, she said that families seeking asylum should simply go to ports of entry in order to legally enter the U.S.; detractors were quick to point out that many families denied entry at the understaffed facilities.)
It sounds simple when put into such language, but Nielsen is skirting the true issue: Trump. The zero-tolerance policy, which was implemented as a deterrent to illegal immigration (according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions), is the direct cause of family separation across the border. In previous administrations, illegal immigrants were prosecuted, but not to such an extreme degree—separating families was never the intention. So while Nielsen puts the weight of the issue on Congress’s shoulders, the truth is that Trump could stop the “zero-tolerance” policy if he wanted to—he’d simply have to specify how exactly current laws should be enforced.
Unsurprisingly, politicians are not pleased with the Secretary of Homeland Security’s reversal of blame, and are voicing their disapproval of Nielsen and calling for her resignation.
Though Kirstjen has been rather active on Twitter recently, she has yet to address the conversation surrounding her potential resignation.
As with most members of the Trump administration, this is not the first time Nielsen has made unfavorable headlines. Back in January, the newly appointed Secretary of Homeland Security testified that she did not hear President Trump notoriously describe various African nations as "sh—hole" countries during a meeting with lawmakers.
"I did not hear that word used, no sir,” Nielsen testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “The conversation was very impassioned," she explained. "I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language. Others in the room were also using tough language.”
Turning the tables in Trump's favor once more, she continued, "I was struck more by the fact that the conversation—although passionate and appropriately so—had gotten to a place where many people in the room were using inappropriate language in the oval office in front of the President. That's what struck me."