Before they were ousted last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and immigration enforcement official Ronald Vitiello challenged a White House plan to arrest thousands of parents and children in a blitz operation against migrants in 10 major cities, reports the Washington Post. The administration wanted to target the crush of families that crossed the U.S.-Mexico border after the president’s failed “zero tolerance” prosecution push in early 2018. Officials said the purpose was a show of force to send the message that the U.S. was going to get tough by swiftly moving to detain and deport recent immigrants, including families with children. The plan included an effort to fast-track immigration court cases, allowing the government to obtain deportation orders against those who did not appear at hearings. Officials said 90 percent of those targeted were found deportable in their absence. The subsequent arrests would have required raids against parents with children in their homes and neighborhoods.
Vitiello and Nielsen halted it, concerned about a lack of preparation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the risk of public outrage and worries that it would divert resources from the border. Trump adviser Stephen Miller and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence were eager to execute dramatic, highly visible mass arrests that they argued would help deter the soaring influx of families. The arrests were planned for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the other largest U.S. destinations for Central American migrants. There was an initial target list of 2,500 adults and children, but the plan, which remains under consideration, was viewed as a step toward arresting as many as 10,000 migrants. Officials said the objections Vitiello and Nielsen raised regarding the “at large” arrests were operational and logistical and not a result of ethical concerns about arresting families a judge had ordered deported.