White House Had Secret Plan to Arrest Thousands of Migrant Parents, Children Across U.S., but DHS Chief Kirstjen Nielsen Blocked It. Then She Was Fired: Report

In their final weeks as two of the top immigration officials in the White House, former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Ronald Vitiello thwarted a secret White House plan to arrest thousands of migrant parents and children across the country, according to a report.

Citing seven current and former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, The Washington Post reported Monday that the Trump administration had sought to launch a "blitz operation" against asylum-seeking families who had crossed into the U.S. in the months after the president's "zero tolerance" policy against those who crossed the border illegally, which resulted in family separations, came to an end.

The operation had set out to target as many as 10,000 asylum seekers, with ICE reportedly having gathered an initial "target list" of 2,500 adults and children across 10 major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The majority of families that would have been targeted in the operation had crossed the border over the past 18 months and were in the U.S. either awaiting a court date or in defiance of deportation orders.

Officials behind the plot had also planned to allow fast-track immigration court cases, which would have allowed the government to obtain deportation orders for anyone who failed to show up for their immigration hearings.

Speaking to The Post on condition of anonymity, officials said the main motivation behind the operation was to send a clear message to asylum seekers that the U.S. was ready to get "get tough" again on immigration after its failed "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

According to The Post, both senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence, who has since replaced Vitiello as acting ICE chief, were strong proponents of the plan, which they argued would help to deter asylum seekers from making the journey to the U.S. border.

Nielsen and Vitiello, however, reportedly thwarted their plans. They were said to have expressed concern about the lack of preparation around the targeted raids, as well as the risk of sparking public outrage. The immigration heads were also concerned that the effort could force the DHS to divert resources away from its border-security efforts.

Sources made clear that the concerns expressed by both Nielsen and Vitiello centered primarily on "operation and logistical" factors, rather than "ethical concerns," about arresting asylum-seeking families.

"There was concern that it was being hastily put together, would be ineffective and might actually backfire by misdirecting resources away from critical border emergency-response operations," one DHS official told the news outlet.

Nielsen and others within the White House also reportedly said they worried that a widespread sweep targeting parents and children would detract from the Trump administration's claims of specifically going after "criminal aliens" in immigration raids.

Ultimately, one official told The Post, "The proposal was nowhere near ready for prime time...They wanted 10 cities, thousands of targets."

Since the plan was foiled, both Nielsen and Vitiello have left the White House, with President Donald Trump vowing to move in a "tougher" direction.

Newsweek has contacted the DHS and White House for comment.

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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listens as President Donald Trump answers questions after signing an executive order that will end the practice of separating family members who are apprehended while illegally entering the United States on June 20, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Nielsen reportedly thwarted a secret White House plot to arrest thousands of migrant parents and children across the U.S. before she was fired from her role. Win McNamee/Getty
White House Had Secret Plan to Arrest Thousands of Migrant Parents, Children Across U.S., but DHS Chief Kirstjen Nielsen Blocked It. Then She Was Fired: Report | U.S.