Late last week, Donald Trump publicly floated the idea of releasing asylum seekers into sanctuary cities, purportedly as punishment for their refusal to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

His remarks came less than a day after the Washington Post reported on leaked communications from DHS discussing the idea as far back as last November.

Trump’s own administration quickly shot down any speculation that the president was seriously considering such a proposal, but late Saturday night, he sent out a tweet doubling down on his initial idea, and invented a legal theory supporting it, seemingly out of whole cloth.

Just out: The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities. We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California, which is well known or its poor management & high taxes!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2019

In fact, his own Department of Homeland Security has thoroughly rejected the idea as a farce, on both practical and legal grounds.


On Sunday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) similarly dismissed the idea as nonsense during an appearance on Fox News, and suggested the mere mention of such a policy was a game of political theater.

“My understanding is that’s not legal, there’s no budget for that purpose, this is clearly a political move for the president,” he told host Chris Wallace. “He’s using immigrants as pawns in a game of political chess. He’s not really interested in a solution, he’s more interested in preserving a political issue for the 2020 election.”

The White House has a long track record of appeasing their racist supporters by demonizing immigrants. Last fall, as the November midterm elections approached, Donald Trump deployed the national guard to the border in an attempt to gin up fear of a migrant caravan making its way through Central America. For weeks, Trump insisted the caravan posed a threat to national security, exaggerating or outright lying about incidents of violence or infiltration by ISIS operatives.

Demonizing immigrants for political gain is not only a grotesque way to talk about the lives of human beings, it also doesn’t work. Democrats swept into power during the midterm elections, and polls show that voters trust Democrats more than Trump by a wide margin on the issue of border security. Police chiefs who work in cities that prohibit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement support the sanctuary movement as well.

But to characterize Trump’s latest idea on migrants as a matter of “border security” or immigration policy is to misunderstand his driving philosophy: it’s fueled entirely by racism, not by pragmatism.


The Washington Post spoke with a congressional investigator looking into the matter who says White House aide Stephen Miller, who has a long history of pushing white supremacist ideology, is the driving force behind the idea.

“It was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out,” the investigator told the Post. “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.”

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