Kirstjen Nielsen resigns as Homeland Security secretary

(Gray News/AP) - Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned on Sunday.

In a resignation letter, she said it was her “great honor” to serve in the post. But she expressed some frustration with the current immigration system.

“Despite our progress in reforming Homeland Security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” she wrote. “I hope that the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

She added that “our country and the men and women of DHS deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them.”

President Donald Trump said he is nominating Kevin McAleenan, the current commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as her replacement.

In his tweet, the president thanked Nielsen for her service. He said he had confidence that McAleenan “will do a great job!”

Two AP sources said Nielsen went to the White House Sunday to speak with Trump following their trip to the border late last week. The people say she has been frustrated by difficulty getting other departments to help with the growing number of families coming crossing the border.

Nielsen had been on the chopping block before. Trump threatened to fire her and she previously considered resigning, but officials at the time recognized there were no obvious successors in place.

The people were not authorized to speak publicly about internal matters and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.

Nielsen took over the position in December 2017 after John Kelly left the post to become the president’s chief of staff. She was seen as a staunch backer of the president’s restrictive immigration policies.

She became a central figure in the backlash to the Trump administration’s family separation policy last summer.

Nielsen defended the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, and many called for her resignation. She falsely claimed the administration had no policy of separating families and were instead enforcing a law enacted by Congress.

After growing public outcry, Trump ended the policy in June.

Nielsen received praise from the president for her handling of the issue, and she stood beside him as he signed the executive order ending the separations.

During her tenure, Nielsen also faced scrutiny for comments she made regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and beyond. On a number of occasions, she indicated she didn’t believe the Russians specifically tried to help Trump, despite intelligence community conclusions that they did.

In one instance, DHS had to clarify that she agreed with the intelligence community’s assessments.

Nielsen also faced a critical response in a number of instances for comments that were seen as tone deaf.

In the most widely-panned episode, Nielsen infamously told a Senate committee that was scrutinizing the president’s “s---hole countries” remarks that she did not know if Norway was a predominantly white country.

“I actually do not know that sir,” Nielsen told Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy after he asked her about Norway’s racial makeup, referring to Trump’s remarks in which he stated a preference for immigration from Norway rather than Africa or Haiti.

She said that she did “imagine that is the case.”

In an interview last year, Nielsen also talked about Trump’s comments regarding the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA, that left one woman dead. The president faced criticism for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the rally, which included white nationalists, white supremacists and alt-right groups.

"I think what's important about that conversation is it's not that one side is right and one side is wrong," Nielsen said. "Anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate."

Trump nominated Nielsen for the secretary of Homeland Security position in October 2017, and the Senate confirmed the nomination two months later.

Before that, Nielsen worked as chief of staff to Kelly during his tenure in the position, beginning in January 2017. She also worked as Trump’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

Nielsen served under President George W. Bush in the Transportation Security Administration and on the Homeland Security Council, where she oversaw disaster preparedness and response.

Kirstjen Nielsen leaves the Trump administration

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press and Gray Television Group, Inc. All rights reserved.