Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made it clear during her first full week on the job that border security and the enforcement of immigration laws is her top priority, and said those priorities came directly from President Trump.
"The president has made it clear that my number one priority as secretary of Homeland Security is to protect America from all threats," Nielsen told the Washington Examiner on Friday. "As I discussed this week, making America safe starts with securing our borders, increasing interior immigration enforcement, protecting our communities, and dismantling transnational criminal organizations."
"We have accomplished much, but to fully protect the nation, Congress must adopt legislation that closes the loopholes that incentivize illegal immigration, provides the funds needed to build the wall, and reforms the outdated immigration system," she added.
Nielsen wasted no time getting to work after being sworn in as the country's sixth secretary of the 16-year-old department on Dec. 6. She was confirmed by the Senate with bipartisan support a day earlier.
By Tuesday, Nielsen had departed Washington for a press conference in Baltimore on MS-13, a transnational gang that originated in Central America and is associated with cross-border drug cartels. Nielsen appeared alongside Attorney General Jeff Sessions and said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will "no longer look the other way" when encountering "other immigration offenders" while going after criminal aliens, including illegal immigrant gang members.
A message to the 10,000 MS-13 members in our country today: We are coming for you. You cannot hide. You cannot escape justice. pic.twitter.com/RHtOZB42w6— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) December 12, 2017
During that press conference, Nielsen criticized current immigration policies as "misguided." The Trump administration is consequently "putting in place new measures to keep terrorists from entering" the U.S., including a proposal to replace the diversity visa lottery with a merit-based system. She cited the recent New York City suicide bomber alleged attempt to attack the city as an example of how a foreigner abused the current immigration system to get into the country.
That same day, Nielsen headed south to Austin, Texas, where she condemned local jurisdictions that have prioritized protecting criminals, including MS-13 gang members, over citizens. She called on other states to follow Texas' example and ban the type of non-compliant policies Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez had vowed not to comply with ICE detainer requests.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen talking about sanctuary cities and "the importance of local jurisdictions cooperating with federal officers who are trying to enforce the law." pic.twitter.com/3mINFOe8dh— MelanieTorre (@melanietorre) December 12, 2017
On Wednesday, the Nielsen visited with Customs and Border Protection's acting Deputy Commissioner Ron Vitiello and Chief Patrol Agent for the Rio Grand Valley, Manuel Padilla Jr., in Hidalgo, Texas. The trio toured the Rio Grande zone, which has seen a significant uptake in the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions over the past couple years despite downturns in San Diego, Calif., and parts of Arizona.
Nielsen told Fox News she has $1.8 billion that she can start spending on the U.S.-Mexico border wall and will allocate some of that money to "major improvements" in the Rio Grande over the next year.
"We actually have about 55 miles around this area. It's non-contiguous," Nielsen said. "So the 28 miles that we are prioritizing will actually fill in the gaps."
On Thursday, Nielsen addressed transnational criminal organizations at a U.S.-Mexico event and called the southern country a critical partner to stopping the smuggling of people, cash, and narcotics.
The secretary rounded up the week by announcing the Trump administration's plan to start requiring countries with high rates of citizens overstaying select visas in the U.S. to launch campaigns educating people against breaking immigration laws.
Four countries — Portugal, Greece, Hungary, and San Marino — which had overstay rates on business or tourism nonimmigrant visas of greater than 2 percent last year will be required to create public information campaigns that educate people about the conditions for admission to the U.S.
The change to this specific program was made in order to ensure the VWP has the appropriate security requirements in place to make sure terrorists and criminals cannot exploit the program.
"The United States faces an adaptive and agile enemy, as terrorists continue to explore ways to reach our country and to direct, enable, and inspire attacks against us," Nielsen said in a statement Friday. "It’s critically important we stay ahead of these threats by improving our security posture. These enhancements will strengthen the program, and they are part of our continued efforts to raise the baseline for homeland security across the board."