The border debate has once again been upended by President Trump’s exploration of a plan to take illegal immigrants nabbed at the U.S.-Mexico border and ship them to sanctuary cities for release.
In the abstract, the idea could have relieved some of the pressure on border communities overwhelmed by the surge of illegal immigrants, who are being caught and released onto their streets. But in the hands of Mr. Trump, it has become a tool of political payback, raising questions of legality.
Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets and comments to reporters over the past few days, confirmed that he is considering the move nonetheless. He has suggested that Democrats in Washington have a choice between helping solve the problem at the border or having their home states and districts — which are often the sites of sanctuary cities — become destinations for tens of thousands of migrants a month.
“Democrats must change the Immigration Laws FAST,” Mr. Trump said in a message on Twitter. “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.”
At least one sanctuary city leader said to bring it on.
Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland, California, said she will welcome anyone.
“I’ve been consistent and clear,” she said. “Oakland welcomes all, no matter where you came from or how you got here.”
Whether other sanctuaries make similar offers remains to be seen.
But communities on the border say they need something to change.
Las Cruces, New Mexico, managed to escape the past 30 years of border problems, but the latest surge of illegal immigrants from Central America is hitting the city hard.
Smugglers have started funneling the migrants to remote areas of the border, such as the deserts of southern New Mexico. Unlike surges of decades past, the current flow of migrants has figured out how to exploit loopholes to gain a foothold in the U.S., forcing the administration to process and release the migrants into border-state cities.
State officials appealed for the community to donate food and personal items to help care for the migrants.
Bobbie MacKenzie, volunteer coordinator for the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps, asked for pediatricians, nurses and EMTs to step forward and volunteer.
“We need more. This is going to be an ongoing event,” the coordinator told The Associated Press. “We’re trying to not to inundate and overwhelm the volunteers.”
More than 100,000 illegal immigrants, most of them children and families, surged into the U.S. last month and officials said this month could be as high as 150,000. There are fewer than 3,000 beds to hold families in detention, so the government has reinstated “catch and release.”
Mr. Trump on Friday confirmed that he has thought about shipping them further inside the U.S.
“California certainly is always saying, ‘Oh, we want more people,’ and they want more people in their sanctuary cities. Well, we’ll give them more people. We’ll give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply,” he said.
“Let’s see if they have open arms,” he added.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, questioned the legality of Mr. Trump’s idea.
“It’s another misuse of presidential power against the law,” Mr. Nadler told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
The congressman said Mr. Trump may have broken the law already if he did promise acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan a pardon if he is too aggressive in trying to stop illegal immigrants.
CNN reported last week that Mr. Trump said that to Mr. McAleenan while they were at the border together this month. CNN reported the president may have been joking.
Mr. Nadler was nonplussed.
“This just shows the president’s contempt for law,” he said.
Mr. Trump is desperately searching for options to stop the flow of illegal immigrants. He said Friday that he will deploy more troops to the border and ponder his sanctuary cities move.
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