Report: White House Wanted to Bus Migrant Detainees to Sanctuary Cities to Target Political Foes

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

It’s a dark time in the executive suite of the Department of Homeland Security. After a weekend push to get rid of many top officials, the president removed his nominee for ICE director for someone “tougher,” and pushed out Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in favor of someone who appears more willing to break the law. For DHS secretary, the president has reportedly found in Ken Cuccinelli a potential nominee more to his taste. In 2013, former Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli called for a constitutional convention to revoke birthright citizenship. The year before, he compared immigrants to rats.

But whoever is leading the DHS may have a hard time matching the ideas coming from the Trump administration itself, according to a new report from the Washington Post. According to DHS officials who spoke with the paper, the White House shopped around the idea of releasing migrant detainees in so-called sanctuary cities as a political tactic to frustrate Democrats representing those areas.

According to the report, in the past six months, Trump administration officials have twice considered moving detained migrants to urban areas represented by Democrats: Once in November, during the nativist panic surrounding the migrant caravan, and a second time in February, after the president realized he shut down the government just to come up short on funding for a border wall. According to Homeland Security officials who spoke with the Post, Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco was one of the areas the White House intended to target. As the Post reports:

White House officials first broached the plan in a Nov. 16 email, asking officials at several agencies whether members of the caravan could be arrested at the border and then bused “to small- and mid-sized sanctuary cities,” places where local authorities have refused to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation.

The White House told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the plan was intended to alleviate a shortage of detention space but also served to send a message to Democrats. The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE, with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns, and noting that “there are PR risks as well.”

When the White House broached the subject again in February, ICE’s legal department reportedly “rejected the idea as inappropriate and rebuffed the administration.”

Two DHS whistleblowers also reportedly informed Congress of the plan. According to the Post:

The White House believed it could punish Democrats — including Pelosi — by busing ICE detainees into their districts before their release, according to two DHS whistleblowers who independently reported the busing plan to Congress … According to both, there were at least two versions of the plan being considered. One was to move migrants who were already in ICE detention to the districts of Democratic opponents. The second option was to bus migrants apprehended at the border to sanctuary cities, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

The reported source for the plan shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the recent coup at the Department of Homeland Security. According to the two DHS officials, Stephen Miller brought the proposal to ICE, where officials “understood that he was pressing the plan,” according to the Post.

Who else but Miller — the senior aide who authored the travel ban and pushed for family separation — would lobby to bus at-risk individuals to unfamiliar cities as a means to antagonize political opponents? “It was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out,” said a congressional investigator who spoke to one of the whistleblowers. “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.”

Report: White House Wanted to Bus Migrants to Dem Cities