On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Donald Trump had had nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, an aide to Chief of Staff John Kelly and longtime national security official, to be the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary.
Nielson, who previously served in George W. Bush’s administration, is in some ways a fairly unremarkable choice for the position. As Kelly’s number two, her role is largely that of executor and enforcer of her boss’ orders, so it’s not surprising that Kelly himself reportedly pushed for Nielsen to succeed him as DHS secretary.
As the first former rank-and-file employee to be nominated to lead the DHS, her history as a national security expert with a focus on cybersecurity is seen by some as a welcome change to the constant upheaval of Trump’s administration.
However, despite her wonky reputation, Nielsen’s nomination isn’t without controversy.
As a member of Bush’s Homeland Security Council, Nielsen was actively involved in the White House’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina—a failure of historic proportions which takes on added significance given the Trump administration’s ongoing mishandling of the relief effort in Puerto Rico.
“I am very concerned about her past work in the Bush administration during its botched response to Hurricane Katrina and am fearful that DHS—as well as this president—has not learned all the lessons from that tragedy given what we are seeing unravel in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson told the New York Times.
But perhaps more problematic is Nielsen’s work with Kelly and the Trump administration in the White House’s all-out assault on any number of already-marginalized communities.
Under then-DHS Secretary Kelly, Nielsen was closely involved in the president’s efforts to enact his sweeping ban on Muslim travelers to the United States—an effort she would now be charged with leading as head of Homeland Security. Furthermore, she has been by Kelly’s side while he’s implemented the president’s ongoing assault on immigrant communities through DHS agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
Despite her association with many of the Trump administration’s most odious policy pursuits, anti-immigrant extremists were not immediately prepared to welcome Nielsen into the fold.
“[Nielsen] seems like a low-drama pick,” Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies, told Reuters. “It’s a little concerning that she seems to have little background in immigration security and policy.”
Still, leading the Department of Homeland Security under Trump is damning enough as it is.