WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday sent paperwork withdrawing the nomination of longtime border official Ron Vitiello to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to three people with knowledge of the move.
The activity was met with some confusion, with some Homeland Security officials saying it was done in error.
Vitiello was nominated to the top post after more than 30 years in law enforcement, starting in 1985 with the U.S. Border Patrol. He had a Senate hearing in November and his nomination passed the homeland security committee.
The Department of Homeland Security referred questions Thursday to the White House, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The move came as immigration officials are dealing with a massive spike in U.S-Mexico border crossings — and a recent flare-up by President Donald Trump, who threatened to close the border entirely by the end of this week before backing off.
In recent months, the number of families crossing into the U.S. has climbed to record highs, pushing the system to what administration officials say is a breaking point.
Since Dec. 21, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has set free more than 125,000 people who came into the U.S. as families, a move Trump has derided as ‘‘catch and release.’’
Still, Thursday’s letter caught Homeland Security officials off guard. Vitiello was supposed to travel with Trump to the border Friday, but he is no longer going, one official said. He will still remain acting director of the agency tasked with enforcing immigration law in the interior of the U.S.
One Homeland Security official insisted the letter was a paperwork error that had been corrected. But other, higher-level officials said the move did not appear to be a mistake, even though they were not informed ahead of time.
The people had direct knowledge of the letter but were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.