Updated April 12, 2:55 p.m.
The Trump administration twice discussed a plan to bus migrants to sanctuary cities, as a way of getting revenge on Democrats.
When undocumented migrants were crossing the southern border in droves last fall, crowding detention centers, the administration reportedly saw a ripe political opportunity.
The idea, according to emails seen by the Washington Post and confirmed by the New York Times, was to bus those migrants — many of them likely asylum-seeking women and children from conflict-ridden countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — away from the border to unprepared, so-called “sanctuary cities,” like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district of San Francisco.
Sanctuary cities commit to limiting deportations and cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
The administration reportedly discussed the plan twice in six months, according to the Post: once in November, right after the midterm elections, and again in February, around the time of the prolonged government shutdown over President Trump’s plan for a southern border wall. Both times, lawyers with ICE rejected the plan and one official said it carried “PR risks as well,” according to the emails reviewed by the Post.
"This was a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion,” a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News in response to the Post’s report.
But then early Friday afternoon, Trump seemingly rejected his own team’s press statements, tweeting that the reports were true and that the administration was still considering the policies. “Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!”
The Post’s report demonstrates, in part, how the Trump administration has proposed increasingly extreme methods for curbing immigration or forcing Democrats into accepting Trump-backed reforms. This month, Trump threatened to shutter the southern border — a move criticized by Republicans as economically disastrous. And this week, a handful of top immigration officials were forced out of the administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello, and acting deputy secretary Claire Grady. The shakeup was reportedly orchestrated by Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner and senior adviser to Trump.
Miller was also reportedly behind the plan to bus migrants into sanctuary cities, according to the Post, although he wasn’t explicitly named in any of the emails the paper reviewed. Rather, according to the Times, the proposal was first floated by May Davis, deputy White House policy coordinator.
“What happened here is that Stephen Miller called people at ICE, said if they’re going to cut funding, you’ve got to make sure you’re releasing people in Pelosi’s district and other congressional districts.” an anonymous government investigator, who interviewed the whistleblower who flagged the proposal to Congress, told the Post. The White House denied the consideration was politically motivated in statements to both news outlets.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the existence of sanctuary cities, which tend to lean toward liberal policies. He’s also criticized San Francisco’s sanctuary status, citing the murder of Kate Steinle, a woman who was killed by an undocumented immigrant in the city.
“Gunned down in the sanctuary city of San Francisco, by an illegal immigrant, deported five previous times. And they knew he was no good,” Trump said during a 2016 speech, mentioning Steinle’s death.
Cover: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insists that Attorney General William Barr send to Congress the full report by special counsel Robert Mueller on the Russia probe with all its underlying evidence, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 4, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)