President Donald Trump and White House allies pressing for a harder line on immigration sped up their campaign to clean house at the Department of Homeland Security with a mission far wider than just the departure of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The dismantling of the government's immigration leadership is being orchestrated by Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the impetus behind some of the administration's most controversial policies, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Beyond changing names and faces, Trump is considering separating migrant families at the border again, resuming the practice that drew so much outrage last year, the same people said. The shake-up is a result of Trump's frustration with the increasing number of migrants at the border and his diminishing options for action. Court challenges, immigration laws and his own advisers have blocked several of his proposals as his re-election campaign looms. The White House has lashed out by demanding new leadership, although a new team is likely to face the same obstacles.
The head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, and Homeland Security General Counsel John M. Mitnick are expected to be pushed out of their positions, the officials said. Nielsen submitted her resignation Sunday after meeting with Trump at the White House, and three days earlier, the administration withdrew the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other longtime civil servants in agency posts are also on the chopping block, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Adding to the turmoil, the director of the Secret Service is being forced out of his job, but that departure is said to be unrelated to the immigration upheaval. Leading senators from both parties were displeased.
"The purge of senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security is unprecedented and a threat to our national security," declared Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California. "President Trump is trying to remake DHS into his own personal anti-immigration agency."
Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, criticized Congress for a crisis at the border but also said, "I am concerned with a growing leadership void within the department tasked with addressing some of the most significant problems facing the nation." Nielsen has dutifully carried out the administration's orders but often had to explain to Trump the legal limits of what he wanted to do. And he didn't like it.
(With inputs from agencies.)