Today, Donald Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen to be the new secretary of Homeland Security, a position that would oversee immigration, deportations, and the unwinding of DACA — in addition to counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, disaster relief, and other significant domestic policy spheres.
Nielsen was former chief John Kelly’s deputy when he was at DHS, and helps manage the White House now that Kelly is Trump’s chief of staff. She’s also a cyber-security expert who has worked in the Transportation Security Administration, served in George W. Bush’s White House Homeland Security Council, and spent time as a corporate attorney and congressional staff member.
Nielsen hasn’t been a public figure, so there’s not much to indicate how she’ll manage immigration in the era of Trump’s mass deportations. Some have called her a “policy wonk”, and the Washington Post noted that White House officials like Stephen Miller wanted someone who was more of an immigration hardliner. Nielsen does not appear to be a firebrand along the lines of Jeff Sessions, but time will tell.
It’s worth remembering that former chief John Kelly was heralded as a cool-headed general and the “grown-up” in the room when he was nominated. Yet Kelly turned out to be a follower rather than a leader, blindly carrying out Trump’s mass deportation policies instead of making smart immigration choices. He suggested separating mothers and children at the border (later abandoning the idea), insisted that ICE was focusing on deporting criminals when really they were rounding up everyone, told members of Congress to “shut up” after they criticized him, called children who flee Central American violence a “huge scam”, made it clear that he didn’t believe in temporary protected status, and of course — oversaw the detention and deportation of countless immigrant mothers and fathers whom previous Administrations saw fit to let stay.
Nielsen was Kelly’s deputy through all this, and they are reportedly close. The worry is that she’ll be a carbon-copy of Kelly at a time when DACA is being unwound and Dreamers are being added to universe of immigrants in danger of deportation. If Nielsen gets a confirmation hearing, where she stands on immigration and deportation should be a serious question for questioning Senators.