Author’s note: This is what Kirstjen Nielsen should—but won’t—say after being fired by Donald Trump. She’s in a unique position to bring a moral and political reckoning. She may not, but she sure should.
The most common lie for Washington politicians facing political disgrace is this: “I take full responsibility.” Translated to English, it means, “I take no responsibility for anything, and may I have a lobbying job now, please?”
I cannot say I take full responsibility for my actions in the Trump administration without freely and fully admitting what I have done, and left undone.
I am Kirstjen Nielsen, and this is my confession.
I abandoned all principles, broke my Constitutional oath, and ignored my duty to the country in service to Donald Trump. I chose power and position over the law, ethics, standards, and decency.
I have been a party to evil.
No word more effectively describes the Trump administration’s actions on immigration. By acts of omission and commission, I have executed policies of deliberate cruelty, particularly to children, that were both in violation of the letter and the spirit of U.S. law and the most basic norms of humanitarian behavior.
I have served a president surrounded by men and women who represent the very antithesis of the American dream. Neither economics nor security drive their views on immigration and the border. Overt racism, isolationism, and the idea that America is being “browned” by immigrants inform their beliefs and actions. They view hostility to immigrants and immigration as a winning political issue, no matter the moral or humanitarian cost.
The beliefs of this president and his advisors on immigration and border security are a twisted mirror image of a nation where we once honored the histories of our immigrant forebears. They do not believe, as every generation before us has, that America is a propositional nation.
The president himself—and the men and women who surround him—view immigrants seeking a safer, better life in America as less than human. He has, in my presence, referred to immigrants as “animals.” (No, really. Look at the actual transcript and ignore the MS-13 spin.) His advisors and allies have joked that the deaths of large numbers of immigrants are a salutary deterrent.
I could tell you that I thought I would be a lone voice of sanity in a chorus of madness and hate. That would be a lie. I could tell you that without me standing boldly in the face of the president’s illegal and inhumane orders that the situation with tens of thousands of immigrant children would be even more terrible and dire. That too would be a lie.
Because the truth is that I knew that I would never bring to bear any meaningful influence. Stephen Miller is Trump’s brain. And I knew that.
But it’s worse than that. Because too often I was a coward in the face of his demands.
While I resisted some of their excesses as a matter of optics, I carried out orders. I obeyed. While I offered legal objections on why we could not execute some of the president’s orders and resisted them in private, I never took my concerns to Congressional oversight bodies in either the House or Senate.
There was no crisis on the border when President Trump took office, though he has tried his best to create one. There was never a basis for the president’s declaration of a national emergency. There is no viable mechanism for sealing the U.S. border that does not result in a massive humanitarian and economic catastrophe on both sides of the line.
And finally: There is no Wall. There is no plan for a Wall. No sections of “the Wall” have been, or will be, built. The Wall is a con on the American people.
I have played lawyerly word games to hide not only the depravity and cruelty of the policies of this administration but my role in them. I have been responsible for covering up the deaths of children in American captivity.
I freely and openly admit that I turned the Department of Homeland Security away from its mission to pursue violent internal threats to America’s security into the lavish anti-immigrant theater that the president and Mr. Miller desired.
The Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of attacks from terrorists who wanted to destroy our Republic. I turned my department into an arm of the president’s war against people who want to join it.
I have shamed myself and shamed this country by allowing Donald Trump to stain the glorious legacy of our great nation. He is a man without better angels, and I will stand as a warning to others who continue to serve him.
My actions have not only destroyed my reputation and dishonored the image of America, but also stand as a profound affront to values and principles for which this country once stood.
I stand ready to testify to Congress on this and any other matters, and may God have mercy on my soul.