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DHS continues to shed leaders as ICE acting director Ronald Vitiello shoved out

In one of her last acts in office, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Wednesday that Ronald Vitiello, the acting director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is also leaving the agency. 

In an email to DHS employees, Nielsen announced that Vitiello had resigned, the fourth major official to leave DHS this week, including Nielsen herself, and the next person in line of succession at DHS, the agency's deputy director, Claire Grady. 

Grady resigned on Tuesday, paving the way for the administration to install current CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in Nielsen's place after it was made clear to the administration that federal rules on the line-of-succession meant that Grady was next in line after Nielsen's departure.

The Trump administration also fired Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Ailes, as part of what one senior administration official called a "near-systematic purge" at the nation's second-largest national security agency. 

Vitiello's departure comes just days after the president abruptly announced Friday that he was withdrawing his nomination to have Vitiello become ICE's director after serving as the acting director for months. 

Vitiello's resignation caps off a three decade career that began with Border Patrol, as Vitiello moved up the ranks from agent, to the Chief of the Border Patrol, and the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, before finally becoming the acting deputy for ICE.

In her letter, Nielsen praised Vitiello for leading with "courage and conviction." 

"Ron’s knowledge and expertise as a seasoned law enforcement professional has been invaluable to DHS, and he has left a legacy of excellence as our Department has expanded and refined our efforts to curb illegal immigration and secure our borders," Nielsen said, and thanked him for his service and dedication. 

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All told, there are now seven leadership positions open at DHS, and there are signs that the Trump administration could expand the purge and remove Lee Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well as John Mitnick, the general counsel for DHS.

In a statement, House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) rebuked the "current state of leadership" at DHS, writing that as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Nielsen has left the department, leaving one of seven leadership positions open. 

"It is now apparent that President Trump will simply do anything to deflect the blame for his failing and depraved border security and immigration policies," Thompson said. "These disastrous policies have helped create the humanitarian crisis at the border. The President has no one to blame but himself and his anti-immigrant agenda," he said.

"Unable to understand he is constrained by the law and the courts, the President is now hell-bent on dismantling the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security to attempt to get his way," Thompson said.

"This latest Trump temper tantrum has created a completely unnecessary and unacceptable security risk to the homeland," Thompson said, adding that the lack of "steady" leadership would "inflict untold damage" on DHS and the morale of its 240,000 employees. "The Department needs proven, Senate-confirmed leaders in place that can work with Congress in good faith to help keep the country safe," he said. 

The chaos among DHS's leadership corps comes as CBP struggles to deal with a rising number of Central American families seeking refuge in the U.S., after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A CBP officer walks along the loading dock at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz. in January.