(CNN) – President Donald Trump has pushed in recent weeks to reinstate the family separation policy at the southern border, and sought to close the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso, TX, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Trump rescinded the family separation policy last summer amid public outrage and scrutiny from the courts.
Multiple sources said Trump wanted families separated even if they arrived at legal ports of entry and were legal asylum seekers.
They said the president also wanted them separated if they were apprehended within the United States – because he thinks the separations deter other migrants from coming to the U.S.
Sources said outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen argued they should not bring the policy back because of court challenges, and White House staffers said it would be a public relations disaster.
Nielsen resigned Sunday, as the administration continues to push immigration as one of its main issues.
A source also said the Department of Homeland Security may offer what’s being called a “binary choice.” According to a senior administration official, parents would decide whether to remain united as a family in detention, or agree to be separated while parents go through the immigration court process.
The official said the binary choice has been under discussion within the administration for months.
Sources also said Trump sought to close the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso as his conflict with Nielsen reached a boiling point.
Senior administration officials say during a meeting on Thursday, March 21, Trump ordered Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso on Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.
Nielsen proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.
According to two people in the room, Trump said: "I don't care."
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to have been able to talk the president out of closing the port of El Paso.
Last Friday, Trump visited Calexico, California, where behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the president told border agents to not let migrants in.
The sources said Trump instructed border agents to tell migrants the U.S. doesn’t have the capacity, and if judges gave the agents trouble, to say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”
After Trump left, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction, and if they did what the president said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.