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Trump administration eyes more aggressive immigration approach after DHS purge

Border apprehensions spike in March

The Trump administration is looking to implement even more aggressive immigration policies after replacing top leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the past two days, the most prominent being Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

During a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, a senior administration official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said the White House has been frustrated by the failure of various offices within DHS in implementing aspects of President Trump's immigration agenda, citing the high approval rate of asylum claims by career officials, among other things.

The official said the White House is confident Kevin McAleenan, who is taking over for Nielsen as acting DHS secretary, will be able to better accomplish the White House's objectives.

"Well, I don't want to disparage Kirstjen Nielsen at all, but I would say in respect to Kevin, nobody is more frustrated than Kevin about the fact that these policy changes haven't been made," the official told reporters Tuesday. 

"All I want to say is nobody is more pressured than Kevin about the situation," the official said. "Again, he like all of us is profoundly upset with Congress, profoundly upset with the courts, but eager to make these administrative policy changes, and he knows the system backwards and forwards."

The administration is looking to change a handful of key immigration-related policies, even as the president continues his threats to shut down the border. Specifically, the White House intends to change rules to allow the government to detain migrant families for longer than the current 20-day limit imposed by what's known as the Flores agreement. The senior administration official acknowledged doing so would prompt a court battle, but expressed confidence in ultimately being successful. Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday he isn't looking to reinstate the practice of separating children from their parents at the border. 

The White House also wants to make it more difficult for immigrants to be approved for asylum, the official said, claiming approval rates are too high. The administration believes case workers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of DHS, are still operating under Obama-era policies. The official said those policies are why roughly 90 percent of asylum seekers are approved for demonstrating "credible fear" in initial interviews with federal officials. 

"One of the biggest frustrations is the fact that USCIS has not been able to change agency culture about credible fear and asylum from the Obama years," the official told reporters. 

The Trump administration is also considering eliminating so-called "magnets" attracting immigrants to the U.S. by making it tougher for asylum seekers to obtain work permits, the official said.

Other sources within the Justice Department have suggested part of the holdup on these policies is due to lawyers from DHS and the Justice Department who believe such changes are unlikely to hold up in court. 

Colby Hochmuth contributed to this report.