MCALLEN, RGV – The resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen as U.S. secretary of homeland security could not come fast enough for former San Antonio mayor and presidential candidate Julián Castro.
Nielsen’s departure is one of a number of high-level changes the Trump administration has made at the Department of Homeland Security. Political analysts believe President Trump wants a more hardline approach to immigration.
“I watched DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lead one of the cruelest immigration policies this nation has ever seen. She separated families. She caged children. She dehumanized those seeking asylum,” Castro said.
“So to her departure, I say: Good riddance.”
Castro was secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration. He said that while Nielsen’s departure is welcome, U.S. senators need to carefully monitor who replaces her.
“I say this without hesitation: As long as Donald Trump is in office, his cruelty will continue to infect the core of our government,” Castro said, in an email to his supporters.
“We must defeat him, and we will. But until we do, I need you to raise your voice with me and call on Senators to vote against any Trump nominee who doesn’t commit to treating asylum seekers humanely.”
Congressional Hispanic Caucus perspective
Julián Castro’s twin brother is U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio. Rep. Castro is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Through Rep. Castro, CHC released a statement in response to Trump’s announcement of Nielsen’s resignation and the appointment of Kevin McAleenan as acting secretary.
“Secretary Nielsen spent her tenure as DHS Secretary championing President Trump’s cruel anti-immigrant agenda. Under her watch, children died and thousands of families were torn apart. Pregnant women were shackled and multiple suffered miscarriages,” Rep. Castro said.
“She lied to Congress about her Department’s actions and intentions, and misled the American people about the atrocities they were committing. That is why many CHC members had called on her to step down. Her resignation adds to the chaos that this Administration has purposefully created to justify the President’s border wall.”
Rep. Castro said McAleenan’s appointment as acting secretary is “deeply disturbing.” He noted that McAleenan helped implement the Trump administration’s agenda as CBP Commissioner.
“I have no doubt that he will continue to do so as acting secretary. I had previously called for his resignation after he failed to notify Congress about the death of a child at the hands of CBP,” Rep. Castro said.
“Given his track record, my position has not changed. He cannot be trusted as acting DHS secretary based on his record of prioritizing Trump’s harmful policies that undermine national security and the economy, and hurt vulnerable families and children at the border.”
Rep. Castro added that CHC will continue to “hold the Trump Administration accountable for its actions against immigrants and against the will of the American people.”
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen is a member of CHC. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM last Friday, Gonzalez said heads must role at DHS. He made this comment in relation to President Trump moving customs officers from ports of entry to Border Patrol offices.
“It is sad this has become such a political issue. If you cannot plan for having a mass exodus you should be fired. He is effectively closing down the border by slowing down trade, slowing down tourism,” Gonzalez said.
“We have Easter Week coming, which is a big week for our local businesses, hotels and restaurants. Having the bridges understaffed during this week will have a huge economic impact.”
On Monday, Gonzalez made this comment about Nielsen’s departure from DHS:
“Civil service is not inhumane. Leadership is not obedience. Governance is not ignorance. I expect the next Homeland Security Secretary to uphold the values and morality of the American people – and humanity.”
Reassignment of CBP staff
Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo said he is working with CBP to mitigate the impact of the reassignment of 750 CBP officers, 300 of which were taken from the Laredo Field Office, to Border Patrol sectors.
In a news release, Cuellar said this relocation has “hampered CBP’s ability to process legitimate trade and travel, increasing wait times at the Texas ports of entry and decreased U.S. economic competitiveness.”
Cuellar said he has encouraged Commissioner McAleenan to bring these officers back to their normal roles. He noted that 300 of the 750 CBPOs – 40 percent – were reassigned from South Texas ports of entry. He said this was a disproportionate amount compared to other areas, and requested justification for such an action.
Cuellar said he also urged McAleenan to reassign more officers from the additional 19 field offices, so that the South Texas POEs can efficiently facilitate lawful trade and travel.
Given the increased demands of an already understaffed CBP, Cuellar also urged McAleenan to utilize officer and agent overtime resources to provide the agency with greater flexibility to ensure that there are enough frontline personnel assigned to address peak travel times and increased workload.
Cuellar said it was critical that ports of entry have the appropriate number of personnel to maintain CBP’s core mission of antiterrorism and border security. Cuellar encouraged the commissioner to request additional funding to CBP overtime expenses. Increasing the number of overtime hours will help address border wait times and facilitate the flow of trade, the congressman pointed out.
To further help the situation, Cuellar said CBP should deploy volunteers and bring back retirees. Cuellar also urged McAleenan to expand CBP’s transportation contracts with private companies to increase the capacity for transporting individuals from the field to stations for processing thereby freeing up more Border Patrol agents to address the significant rise in migration to the southwest border.
“It is absolutely essential that we bring back and retain CBP officers at our ports of entry in order to allow us to process legitimate trade and travel in an efficient manner,” Cuellar said.
“My top priority is to ensure that all Texas ports of entry operate as efficiently as possible. As the largest inland port in the country, the Laredo port of entry cannot afford to lose any more CBP officers that provide critical support capacities to protect our homeland. Already, we are seeing delays and CBP is having difficulties in keeping up with operations.”
Cuellar added: “I have offered realistic strategies and resource solutions that will maintain CBP’s ability to process trade and travel, while addressing the surge in migrants at our southern border. It is my hope that CBP Commissioner McAleenan takes these measures into serious consideration, and I look forward to working with him to see that the 750 officers return to their posts at our ports of entry.”
Editor’s Note: The main image of Kirstjen Nielsen accompanying the above news story was taken by Kevin Wolf/AP.