In a dangerous abdication of its responsibility to good governance, the Senate appears poised to confirm Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ms. Nielsen, who has been a powerful right hand to White House Chief of Staff and former DHS Secretary John Kelly, bears direct responsibility for the abusive and harmful practices emanating from DHS under the Trump administration. Detention Watch Network, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and United We Dream strongly oppose Ms. Nielsen’s confirmation.
The most recent entries in Ms. Nielsen’s resume include her time as Mr. Kelly’s chief of staff when he served as DHS secretary, followed by her role as Mr. Kelly’s deputy chief of staff after he moved to the White House. Ms. Nielsen is frequently referred to as Mr. Kelly’s “enforcer.” A vote for her confirmation is a vote for the anti-immigrant, mass deportation agenda this administration has pursued since its inauguration.
Members of Congress must have their eyes wide open to the reality that, if confirmed as secretary, Ms. Nielsen will further the harms and mismanagement that are now emblematic of DHS. With Ms. Nielsen in leadership positions, DHS and its component agencies have:
- Demonstrated “persistent management and performance challenges” according to DHS’s Office of the Inspector General
- Displayed a “lack of fiscal discipline and cavalier management of funding for detention operations,” according to bipartisan congressional appropriators
- Openly and publicly abandoned the principle of prosecutorial discretion, instead intentionally forcing all undocumented immigrants to live in fear, constantly “look[ing] over their shoulder”
- Viciously violated the agency’s own policy of respecting sensitive locations, apprehending parents accompanying their child to the hospital for emergency surgery and detaining a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was en route to obtain emergency medical care
- Unleashed a major enforcement operation using refugee children as bait to arrest more than 400 parents and caregivers seeking to reunify with children who entered the United States unaccompanied
- Routinely returned asylum seekers back to harm at the United States-Mexico border, engaging in such coercive scare tactics as threatening to take migrants’ children away from them if they dare seek asylum
- Taken protected status from nearly one million people by recklessly terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of Nicaragua, Sudan, and Haiti, devastating American families and communities.
DHS’s abuses and mismanagement demand accountability, not the endorsement that Ms. Nielsen’s confirmation signifies. If Ms. Nielsen is confirmed, we urge Members of Congress to engage in robust oversight to ensure that Ms. Nielsen uses her position of power to reverse the dangerous course the agency has charted in recent months.
Immigrant rights organizations offered the following statements:
“Under Trump’s DHS, we have seen unrelenting attacks against the immigrant community coupled with a lack of accountability and transparency,” said Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network. “This year alone ICE has routinely overspent its appropriation, reprogrammed extra money into immigration detention and ignored Congressional reprimands. With Nielson at the helm, a Trump accomplice, DHS will dive deeper into this unchecked closed-door culture of acting with near impunity that will have dire consequences for families nationwide. Members of Congress must say no to Nielsen’s nomination.”
“This administration is doing everything it can to undermine the values of compassion and justice that make me proud to be an American,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “Kirstjen Nielsen has not only endorsed but led the implementation of anti-immigrant policies that subvert who we are as a nation. We urge opposition.”
“Since Trump entered the White House, the lives of immigrants have been thrown into a state of painful uncertainty and families have been broken apart by his mass deportation machine. Kirstjen Nielsen has held positions of power and influence through all of this pain, and we vehemently oppose her nomination as head of DHS,” said Cristina Jimenez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream. “This pending confirmation should be an urgent warning to members of Congress that as they continue to delay passing a clean Dream Act, Nielsen and DHS will continue sending deportation agents after our community, including the 10,000-plus DACA beneficiaries that have lost their protections since Trump killed DACA. United We Dream and our members will continue fighting to keep our families, our undocumented parents and loved ones together because we are here to stay.”