Kirstjen Nielsen

Last updated

Kirstjen Nielsen
Kirstjen Nielsen official photo.jpg
6th United States Secretary of Homeland Security
In office
December 6, 2017 April 10, 2019
President Donald Trump
Deputy Elaine Duke
Claire Grady (acting)
Preceded by John F. Kelly
Succeeded by Kevin McAleenan (acting)
White House Principal Deputy Chief of Staff
In office
September 6, 2017 December 6, 2017
President Donald Trump
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly
Preceded by Katie Walsh
Succeeded by James W. Carroll
Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of Homeland Security
In office
January 20, 2017 July 31, 2017
Secretary John F. Kelly
Preceded byPaul Rosen
Succeeded byChad Wolf (acting)
Personal details
Born
Kirstjen Michele Nielsen

(1972-05-14) May 14, 1972 (age 47)
Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
Education Georgetown University (BS)
University of Virginia (JD)

Kirstjen Michele Nielsen (born May 14, 1972) is an American attorney who is a former United States Secretary of Homeland Security. She is a former Principal Deputy White House Chief of Staff to President Donald Trump and was chief of staff to John F. Kelly during his tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security.

United States Secretary of Homeland Security head of the United States Department of Homeland Security

The United States Secretary of Homeland Security is the head of the United States Department of Homeland Security, the body concerned with protecting the U.S. and the safety of U.S. citizens. The secretary is a member of the President's Cabinet. The position was created by the Homeland Security Act following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The new department consisted primarily of components transferred from other cabinet departments because of their role in homeland security, such as the Coast Guard, the Federal Protective Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It did not include either the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Central Intelligence Agency.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff The top aide to the White House Chief of Staff

The White House Deputy Chief of Staff is officially the top aide to the White House Chief of Staff, who is the senior aide to the President of the United States. The Deputy Chief of Staff usually has an office in the West Wing and is responsible for ensuring the smooth running of the White House bureaucracy, as well as such other duties as the Chief of Staff assigns to him or her. In some administrations, there are multiple deputy chiefs with different duties.

Donald Trump 45th and current president of the United States

Donald John Trump is the 45th and current president of the United States. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and television personality.

Contents

Nielsen was confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security on December 5, 2017. Following her appointment, Nielsen was tasked with implementation of Trump administration family separation policy. She submitted her resignation on April 7, 2019, which came into effect three days later. [1]

Trump administration family separation policy U.S. President Donald Trumps immigration policy having zero tolerance

The Trump administration family separation policy is an aspect of U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policy. The policy was presented to the public as a "zero tolerance" approach intended to deter illegal immigration and to encourage tougher legislation. It was adopted across the whole U.S.–Mexico border from April 2018 until June 2018, however later investigations found that the practice of family separations had begun a year previous to the public announcement. Under the policy, federal authorities separated children from parents or guardians with whom they had entered the US. The adults were prosecuted and held in federal jails, and the children placed under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Early life and education

Kirstjen Michele Nielsen was born on May 14, 1972, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Phyllis Michele Nielsen and James McHenry Nielsen, both United States Army physicians. [2] Nielsen's father is of Danish ancestry while her mother is of Italian descent. The oldest of three children, Nielsen has a sister, Ashley, and a brother, Fletcher. Following Nielsen's birth, the family relocated from Colorado Springs to Clearwater, Florida. [3]

Colorado Springs, Colorado Home rule municipality in Colorado, United States

Colorado Springs is a home rule municipality that is the largest city by area in Colorado as well as the county seat and the most populous municipality of El Paso County, Colorado, United States. Colorado Springs is located in the east central portion of the state. It is situated on Fountain Creek and is located 60 miles (97 km) south of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Danish Americans ethnic group

Danish Americans are Americans who have ancestral roots originated fully or partially from Denmark. There are approximately 1,500,000 Americans of Danish origin or descent.

Following high school, Nielsen attended the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree. She then attended the University of Virginia School of Law, receiving her Juris Doctor in 1999. [4] She also took Japanese studies at Nanzan University, in Nagoya, Japan. [5]

University of Virginia School of Law

The University of Virginia School of Law was founded in Charlottesville in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson as one of the original subjects taught at his "academical village," the University of Virginia. Virginia Law is the fourth-oldest active law school in the United States and the second-oldest continuously operating law school. The law school offers the J.D., LL.M., and S.J.D. degrees in law and hosts visiting scholars, visiting researchers and a number of legal research centers.

Juris Doctor The Juris Doctor degree (J.D. or JD), also known as the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree (J.D., JD, D.Jur. or DJur), is a graduate-entry professional degree in law and one of several Doctor of Law degree

The Juris Doctor degree, also known as the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree and sometimes erroneously rendered as "Juris Doctorate," is a graduate-entry professional degree in law and one of several Doctor of Law degrees. The Juris Doctor is earned by completing law school in Australia, Canada, the United States, and some other common law countries. It has the academic standing of a professional doctorate in the United States, a master's degree in Australia, and a second-entry, baccalaureate degree in Canada.

Japanese studies or Japan studies, is a sub-field of area studies or East Asian studies involved in social sciences and humanities research on Japan. It incorporates fields such as the study of Japanese language, culture, history, literature, art, music and science. Its roots may be traced back to the Dutch at Dejima, Nagasaki in the Edo period. The foundation of the Asiatic Society of Japan at Yokohama in 1872 by men such as Ernest Satow and Frederick Victor Dickins was an important event in the development of Japanese studies as an academic discipline.

Early career

Nielsen served during the George W. Bush administration as Special Assistant to the President and as senior Director for Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPR) at the White House Homeland Security Council. She also set up, and led as Assistant Administrator, the Transportation Security Administration's Office of Legislative Policy and Government Affairs.

George W. Bush 43rd president of the United States

George Walker Bush is an American politician and businessman who served as the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. He had previously served as the 46th governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000.

United States Homeland Security Council

The Homeland Security Council (HSC) is an entity within the Executive Office of the President of the United States tasked with advising the President on matters relating to Homeland Security. The immediate former Homeland Security Advisor was Tom Bossert, who held the rank of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. The current Homeland Security Advisor is Rear Admiral Doug Fears, who took office in April 2018.

Transportation Security Administration United States federal government agency

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that has authority over the security of the traveling public in the United States. It was created as a response to the September 11 attacks.

After leaving the Bush administration in 2008, Nielsen became the founder and President of Sunesis Consulting. [6] The firm's online profile listed her as its only employee, with the firm's phone number being Nielsen's personal cellphone. [7] In September 2013 the company won a federal contract, with an initial award of about $450,000, to "provide policy and legislation, technical writing, and organizational development" to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. [8]

Federal Emergency Management Agency United States disaster response agency, part of Department of Homeland Security

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, initially created by Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 and implemented by two Executive Orders on April 1, 1979. The agency's primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state in which the disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. The only exception to the state's gubernatorial declaration requirement occurs when an emergency or disaster takes place on federal property or to a federal asset—for example, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, or the Space Shuttle Columbia in the 2003 return-flight disaster.

Nielsen was a senior member of the Resilience Task Force of the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security Committee at George Washington University and served on the Global Risks Report Advisory Board of the World Economic Forum. [4]

Initial positions in the Trump administration

Nielsen served as John F. Kelly's chief of staff at the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after he assumed that position on January 20, 2017. [9] [10] In early September 2017, just over a month after Kelly became White House Chief of Staff on July 31, 2017, Nielsen moved to the White House, becoming the principal Deputy Chief of Staff under Kelly. [11] [12] [10]

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security

Kirstjen Nielsen taking the oath of office as the sixth U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sworn in.jpg
Kirstjen Nielsen taking the oath of office as the sixth U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security

Nomination

On October 11, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Nielsen to be the new United States Secretary of Homeland Security, replacing Acting Secretary Elaine Duke. [13] [14] On December 5, 2017, the Senate confirmed her nomination, by a 62–37 vote. [15] On December 6, 2017, she was sworn in as Secretary of Homeland Security. [16] [17]

Tenure

On January 16, 2018, Nielsen testified before the United States Senate in favor of merit, rather than family, based immigration. [18] She was questioned about an earlier meeting at the White House in which press reports and Senator Dick Durbin related that the President had used the word "shithole" to describe African countries, as well as disparaging remarks about Haiti. [19] [20] Nielsen said, "I did not hear that word used, no sir," although she said she heard "tough language" that was impassioned. [20] [21] [22] During the same hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy asked her whether Norway was a predominantly white country. Nielsen appeared to hesitate before answering with, "I actually do not know that, sir." She added, "But I imagine that is the case." [23] [24] [25] Nielsen was criticized by Senator Cory Booker for not recalling or speaking out against Trump's disparaging remarks which Booker characterized as bigoted. [21] [26] Following the hearing, Nielsen expressed her disappointment in the amount of attention being paid to the White House meeting. [27]

On March 23, 2018, it was reported that Nielsen agreed with the enactment of the Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security Regarding Military Service by Transgender Individuals. [28]

Nielsen at a press conference during Super Bowl LII, February 2018 Kirstjen Nielsen 2018.jpg
Nielsen at a press conference during Super Bowl LII, February 2018

At a May 2018 congressional hearing, Nielsen said that she was unaware of the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to help candidate Trump get elected. An assessment by the FBI, CIA and NSA in January 2017 was that the Russian preference was clearly to help Trump win; this assessment was mirrored in a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released days prior to Nielsen's testimony. Nielsen said that she had not seen the intelligence community briefing that Russia had tried to interfere in the 2016 election. [29] Nielsen later, in May 2018 backtracked, saying that she agreed with the intelligence community's assessment. [30]

In July 2018, Nielsen said there were no signs that Russia was targeting the 2018 midterm elections in the same "scale or scope" as it did in 2016. [31] At the Aspen Security Forum, Aspen, Colorado, during an interview by Peter Alexander of NBC on July 19, 2018, Nielsen stated that Russians had absolutely interfered in the United States Presidential Election in 2016. When Alexander asked if Russians had interfered in favor of Donald Trump, Nielsen responded, "I have not seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party. I think what we have seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides." [32] [33] [34] Prior to this on July 16, 2018, at the joint press conference in Helsinki after 2018 Russia-United States Summit, Jeff Mason from Reuters asked President Putin, "Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?" Putin's response was: "Yes, I wanted him to win. Because he talked about bringing the U.S. Russia relationship back to normal." [35] [36]

During the same interview at the Aspen Security Forum when Alexander further asked whether the president has made countering white supremacy a priority, Nielsen replied that he wanted the DHS to prevent "any form of violence" threatening Americans. Referring to President Trump's response to clashes between the white supremacists and counter-protesters at Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, Alexander asked, "But in the comments that are obviously highly publicized when he [President Trump] placed blame in his words on both side, does that make your job harder when President says things that at least in those communities are viewed as he has got our [white supremacists'] back?" In her response Nielsen did not unequivocally denounce white supremacists. She said, "I think what is interesting about that is we saw, and I think we continue to learn— maybe there was different, whether it was foreign influence or different purposeful attempts to get both sides, if you will, aggressively pitted against each other." She later added that "it is not that one side is right, one side is wrong. Anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate." [37] [38] [39]

U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce and Federal Bureau of Investigation announces 23 criminal charges against PRC's Huawei and Wanzhou Meng Justice Department in January 2019.jpg
U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce and Federal Bureau of Investigation announces 23 criminal charges against PRC's Huawei and Wanzhou Meng

In October 2018, Nielsen said that China has become a major threat to the U.S. Nielsen also confirmed, in an answer to a question from a senator, that China is trying to influence U.S. elections. [40]

In January 2019, Nielsen, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and FBI Director Christopher Wray announced 23 criminal charges (including financial fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft of trade secret technology, provided bonus to workers who stole confidential information from companies around the world, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and sanctions violations) against Chinese tech giant Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou. [41] [42] [43] [44]

Family separation policy

On May 7, 2018 Secretary Nielsen "officially enacted" a controversial practice of the Trump administration's policy of separating parents and children accused of crossing over the U.S.–Mexico border illegally. [45] [46]

Nielsen, Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Mnuchin and Advisor Kushner with Mexican President-Elect Lopez Obrador, July 13, 2018 Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Nielsen and Advisor Kushner With Mexican President- Elect Lopez Obrador (42676140144).jpg
Nielsen, Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Mnuchin and Advisor Kushner with Mexican President-Elect López Obrador, July 13, 2018

At a congressional hearing on May 15, 2018, Nielsen testified that she would enforce the then-newly enacted [47] Trump administration policy of separating parents and children who crossed over the U.S.–Mexico border, noting that similar separations happened in criminal courts "every day." [48]

In June 2018, Nielsen stated that the Trump administration did not maintain a policy of separating migrant families at the Southern border; [49] [50] [51] The Washington Post fact-checker described Nielsen's claim as false and "Orwellian." [52] At that point, the Trump administration had in six weeks separated approximately 2,000 migrant children from their parents. [50] Contrary to Nielsen's claims, the DHS website showed that a policy of family separation was in place. [49]

On June 18, 2018, Nielsen defended the policy at a sheriffs' conference but said the administration had asked Congress "to allow us to keep families together while they are detained" as an alternative. "We cannot detain children with their parents so we must either release both the parents and the children – this is the historic 'get out of jail free' practice of the previous administration – or the adult and the minor will be separated as the result of prosecuting the adult. Those are the only two options. Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, rather than changing them, asks the body who enforces the laws not to enforce the laws. That cannot be the answer." [53] Three days earlier, the DHS said that it had separated 1,995 immigrant children from 1,940 adults, which it described as "alleged adult parents," at the border between mid-April and the end of May. Because the law forbids children from being kept in criminal detention facilities, they are separated from their parents. [54]

Nielsen held a press briefing with White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders in June 2018 amid growing public outcry about the family separation policy. [55] Nielsen accused the media and members of Congress of mischaracterizing the administration's policy. [55] She dismissed the suggestion that the administration was using family separations as political leverage to force Congress to support Trump's broader immigration agenda or to deter migrants from coming to the United States. [55] In doing so, she contradicted comments made earlier by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff John Kelly and senior adviser Stephen Miller. [55] She got very little support from administration officials such as Miller, who was openly against her. [56] John Kelly, who had strongly recommended her to Trump, was her biggest advocate amongst the people who talk to Trump the most. [56]

Nielsen with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, October 4, 2018 Reunion con la Secretaria de Seguridad Interna de Estados Unidos (31226062668).jpg
Nielsen with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, October 4, 2018

On June 20, 2018, after repeatedly arguing that the administration could not sign an Executive Order to end family separations, she was present at Trump's signing of an Executive Order ending his "zero-tolerance" policy of separating of children from families. [57] [2] Sources told Politico that Nielsen had privately pushed for this executive order behind the scenes while at the same time saying publicly that the executive order could not be created. [2]

In September 2018, The Intercept reported that Nielsen had previously personally authorized the family separation policy after receiving an April 23, 2018 memo by the heads of three federal immigration agencies (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement) recommending the family separation policy for the express purpose of deterring migration. At the time of the report, Nielsen had avoided attributing deterrence as the purpose of the policy. [58]

In 2019, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray: “...the FBI should immediately investigate whether Secretary Nielsen’s statements [to Congress] violate 18 U.S. Code § 1621, 18 U.S.C § 1001, or any other relevant federal statutes that prohibit perjury and false statements to Congress.” [59] Other Democratic representatives also echoed the same accusations. [60] Nielsen has repeatedly denied the allegations of perjury. [61] [62]

Border incidents

During Nielsen's tenure, several incidents at the U.S.-Mexico border between law enforcement and migrants seeking passage attracted international attention and prompted criticism of the Trump administration's approach towards enforcement.

Border agents' use of teargas

On Sunday, November 25, 2018, there was an incident at the San Ysidro border crossing between California and Mexico. Groups of Central American migrants tried to forcibly cross the border into the United States. Some of them threw rocks at US Border Patrol agents, who responded by firing tear gas into the crowd which included families with small children. [63] [64] [65] The use of tear gas in this situation was strongly criticized. [66] In a statement Nielsen said that this caravan had acted violently in the past and "I refuse to believe that anyone honestly maintains that attacking law enforcement with rocks and projectiles is acceptable." [67] She added that in some cases the women and children in the caravan were being used by the organizers as "human shields" when they confronted law enforcement. [67] She asserted "at this point we have confirmed that there are over 600 convicted criminals traveling with the caravan flow." [67] An earlier "Fact Sheet" about the caravan, released by the DHS, had stated that "over 270 individuals along the caravan route have criminal histories" and that "Mexican officials have also publicly stated that criminal groups have infiltrated the caravan." It also asserted that the caravan included individuals from more than 20 countries. [68] However, that statement was challenged by a Washington Post fact checker, who said it was oddly worded in such a way as to suggest the people referenced were not actually part of the caravan. [69]

Deaths of migrant children in CBP custody

In another instance, Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala, died in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), on December 8, 2018. [70] [71] A few weeks later on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018, Felipe Gómez Alonso, an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala, died in the custody of CBP. [72] [73] In a formal statement [74] released on December 26, 2018, Nielsen called the death "deeply concerning and heartbreaking" and cited U.S. immigration system failings for a growing border crisis. She said she had ordered her agency to bolster medical screenings of children at the southwest border and had enlisted the medical corps of the United States Coast Guard to provide an assessment of CBP's medical programs. The secretary also said that she would travel to the border to personally observe the screenings. Nielsen said that the changing immigration dynamic had been spurred by "an immigration system that rewards parents for sending their children across the border alone," without requiring the adults to face "consequences for their actions." [74] [75] [72] In the same statement [74] released on December 26, 2018, Nielsen added, "Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north. [...] As a result of bad judicial rulings from activist judges and inaction by Congress, we are seeing a flood of family units and unaccompanied alien children." [74]

Resignation

In May 2018, The New York Times reported that Nielsen considered resigning after President Trump berated her during a cabinet meeting for what he described as her failure to secure U.S. borders. [76] The newspaper reported that there was tension between Nielsen and Trump after she and other DHS officials resisted Trump's call to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children while in custody. [76] The reporting was confirmed to Politico and Reuters by a source at the DHS. [77] [78] Nielsen denied that she threatened to resign. [77]

Nielsen submitted her resignation as Secretary of Homeland Security on April 7, 2019, after a White House meeting with President Trump, [79] two days after the President announced he wanted to go in a "tougher" direction on immigration. [56] She had cut short a week-long trip to Europe where she was going to discuss cybersecurity and terror threats with senior UK and Swedish government officials. [56]

Trump also tweeted, on April 7, that Kevin McAleenan, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, would become Acting Secretary. [80] That was made legal after Trump forced Undersecretary for Management Claire Grady, the next in line, [81] to resign on April 9. In a tweet, Nielsen said that she had agreed to remain in her position until April 10 "to assist with an orderly transition and ensure that key DHS missions are not impacted." [80] [82]

By coincidence, on April 5, immigration and civil rights groups had urged companies listed in the Fortune 500 not to hire senior Trump administration officials who were involved in planning, carrying out, or defending the separation of migrant children from their parents. [83] On April 8, a petition aimed at scholars and media figures began circulating, with signers vowing not to "associate myself in any way" with any think tank or university department that employs Nielsen. [84]

In a piece summarizing Nielsen's tenure at DHS, Vox's Dara Lind wrote that Nielsen had been "arguably the most aggressive secretary in the department's short history". [85]

See also

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References

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Political offices
Preceded by
John F. Kelly
United States Secretary of Homeland Security
2017–2019
Succeeded by
Kevin McAleenan
Acting