The White House on Sunday, echoing President Donald Trump, said sending undocumented migrants to sanctuary cities throughout the United States that have protected them from deportation remains a possibility even though government agencies have said it would be impractical and there is no money allocated to do it.
“We certainly are looking at all options as long as opposition Democrats refuse to acknowledge the crisis at the border,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told the “Fox News Sunday” show.
Trump said late Saturday on Twitter, “Democrats must change the Immigration Laws FAST. If not, Sanctuary Cities must immediately ACT to take care of the Illegal Immigrants–and this includes Gang Members, Drug Dealers, Human Traffickers, and Criminals of all shapes, sizes and kinds. CHANGE THE LAWS NOW!”
Hundreds of cities, along with California, the country’s most populous state, have declared themselves as havens for migrants who have illegally crossed the southern U.S. border with Mexico, refusing the help U.S. immigration officials to track down the immigrants so they can be deported.
U.S. border authorities apprehended more than 100,000 undocumented migrants, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, at the border in March, nearly twice that in the same month in 2018.
“The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities,” Trump said. “We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California, which is well known for its poor management & high taxes!”
The U.S. now houses thousands of migrants at the border but is running out of beds and instead is releasing new arrivals into the U.S. on their promise to appear at asylum hearings that might not occur for two years.
The Department of Homeland Security has said that Congress has not appropriated any money to transport the migrants from the border to far-flung sanctuary cities across the U.S., while the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency has called it an “unnecessary operational burden.”
Sanders said, “Nobody thinks this is the ideal solution,” sending migrants to sanctuary cities. But she said mayors of cities “who want this… should be looking to help” Trump resolve the crisis at the border. She accused Congress of wanting to spend “all of its time investigating the president” rather than dealing with the immigration turmoil at the border.
Trump tweeted, “So interesting to see the Mayor of Oakland and other Sanctuary Cities NOT WANT our currently ‘detained immigrants’ after release due to the ridiculous court ordered 20-day rule. If they don’t want to serve our Nation by taking care of them, why should other cities & towns?”
Trump was referring to a court ruling prohibiting the U.S. from detaining migrant minors, those under 18 years old, for more than 20 days, before being required to release them to relatives in the U.S. or other care givers.
A key Republican lawmaker, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told another Fox News show, “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo,” that after the current two-week congressional recess ends, he would introduce legislation that would authorize the detention of children beyond 20 days, “toughen up our asylum standards,” and allow migrant children to be returned to Central American countries, which is not now allowed once they have entered the United States.
“We’re never going to change this with troops and walls at the border,” Graham said of the immigration crisis. “Doing what we’re doing is not working.”
He added, “If you get one foot into the United States,” migrants can seek asylum. “The word is out that if you come with a minor, you’re never going to get deported. We need to change that narrative. We need troops at the border. We need a law. But these U.S. laws are insane.”
The plan would put thousands of immigrants in cities that are not only welcoming to them, but also more likely to rebuff federal officials carrying out deportation orders. Many of these locations have more resources to help immigrants make their legal cases to stay in the United States than smaller cities, with some of the nation’s biggest immigration advocacy groups based in places like San Francisco, New York City and Chicago. The downside for the immigrants would be a high cost of living in the cities, according to an AP report.
AP also reported that the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University announced this week that an analysis found that immigrants in sanctuary cities such as New York and Los Angeles are 20% less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.
“With immigrants being less likely to commit crimes than the U.S. born population, and with sanctuary jurisdictions being safer and more productive than non-sanctuary jurisdictions, the data damns this proposal as a politically motivated stunt that seeks to play politics with peoples’ lives,” said George Gascon, district attorney for San Francisco.
Trump has grown increasingly frustrated over the situation at the border, where tens of thousands of immigrant families are crossing each month, many to claim asylum. His administration has attempted several efforts to stop the flow and he recently shook up the top ranks of the Department of Homeland Security.
The idea to ship immigrants to Democratic strongholds was considered twice in recent months, but the White House and Department of Homeland Security said the plan had been rejected. But Trump said Friday he was still considering the idea.
“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 tweeted. He added that, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy–so this should make them very happy!”
The transportation of immigrants who are arrested at the border to large and faraway cities would be burdensome and costly at a time when Immigration and Customs Enforcement is already stretched thin, having released more than 125,000 immigrants into the country pending their immigration court date since Dec. 21. They are currently being released mainly in border states.
The AP report indicated that flights chartered by ICE cost about $7,785 per flight hour, according to the agency, and require multiple staffers, including an in-flight medical professional. The agency also uses commercial flights. Doing longer transports would increase liability for the agency, especially considering that many of the immigrants in its care are families with young children.
And despite the consideration given to releasing the immigrants on the streets to sanctuary cities, the Trump administration actually has plenty of jail space to detain families. As of April 11, the nation’s three facilities to detain immigrant families were nowhere near capacity, including a Pennsylvania facility housing only nine immigrants.
It’s also unclear how long the immigrants would stay in these cities because they are required to provide an address to federal authorities, typically of a family member, as a condition of their release.
“It’s illogical,” said Angela Chan, policy director and senior attorney with the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus. “It’s just alarming that they are spending so much effort and so much time to engage in political theater.”
According to the AP report, the Trump administration has long pushed back against cities with sanctuary policies, which generally prohibit local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration police, often by refusing to hold people arrested on local charges past their release date at the request of immigration officers. More than 100 local governments around the country have adopted a variety of these policies.
“New York City will always be the ultimate city of immigrants, the president’s empty threats won’t change that,” New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said in a statement.
But Trump seemed ready to step up his fight with the cities, vowing to “give them an unlimited supply” of immigrants from the border.
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