White House officials voted by a show of hands on whether to separate families at the border in 2018, NBC News reported Thursday.
Eleven of President Trump’s most senior advisers met in the White House Situation Room in early May 2018 and were asked to vote on family separations, two officials in attendance told NBC News. The meeting was led by senior advisor Stephen Miller, who reportedly expressed anger toward then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The meeting came about a month after the Trump administration instituted the “zero tolerance” policy, allowing it to prosecute any immigrant who crossed illegally, including those with small children. At the time of the vote, immigrant parents had not yet been separated from their children.
During the meeting, Nielsen reportedly said there weren't enough resources to separate parents, prosecute them and reunite them with their children quickly, the two officials told the network. The Justice Department also said not all parents could be prosecuted in a timely manner, two officials involved in the planning of the zero tolerance policy told NBC News.
Miller alleged Nielsen was stalling before he called for the show-of-hands vote. Most voted in favor of family separations, though Nielsen did not, officials told NBC News.
No adviser argued in the meeting that the action would be immoral, as those claims “fell on deaf ears” in the White House, one official said.
Days after the meeting, Nielsen signed a memo instructing Homeland Security Department employees to prosecute all immigrants who crossed the border illegally, including parents with children.
In June 2018, the president signed an executive order stopping family separations after more than 2,800 children were separated from their parents.
A federal judge ordered the families to be reunited, but there was no plan to track the children or reunite the families, the two former officials said. As a result, it took months to reunite some families, and some parents were deported without their children.
An invitation list for the meeting with the vote obtained by NBC News included then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Nielsen, Miller, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, ex-Under Secretary of Defense John Rood, then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, White House deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Marc Short, who at the time was White House director of legislative affairs.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said told The Hill in a statement that the show-of-hands vote “is absolutely not true and did not happen.”
Health and Human Services Department spokesman Michael Caputo told NBC News, “This never happened.”