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Trump’s Sanctuary-Cities Threat Is His Latest Bid to Govern by Sabotage

The hostage-taker-in-chief. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Friday, the president announced that he is considering busing undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers from the southern border to liberal cities across the United States — and then releasing them onto the streets, in the hope that this would lead to so much chaos and/or violence that congressional Democrats will have no choice but to acquiesce to his demands on immigration.

“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,” Donald Trump tweeted. “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy — so this should make them very happy!”

Here, Trump vouched for a Washington Post report that specifically suggested that the White House had repeatedly implored Immigration and Customs Enforcement to dump undocumented immigrants in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district — as a means of coercing House Democrats into granting the administration concessions in budget negotiations.

In other words, the president is ostensibly threatening to deliberately inflict harm on Americans who live in areas controlled by Democrats until a coequal branch starts taking his marching orders. And, in this respect, Trump’s proposal to release immigrants in sanctuary cities (i.e., cities that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities) isn’t anything new.

Less than three months into his presidency, Trump threatened to deliberately sabotage America’s individual insurance market until Democrats agreed to support repealing and replacing Obamacare:

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said the White House may lack authority to make the payments established under his predecessor to reduce copayments and deductibles for some of the poorest customers who buy insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Cutting off the payments could trigger turmoil in insurance markets.

“I don’t want people to get hurt,” Mr. Trump said. “What I think should happen — and will happen — is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

Trump eventually did cancel those cost-sharing payments (a move that did have its desired effect). Meanwhile, his Health Department cut funding for the law’s outreach groups; slashed Obamacare’s advertising budget by 90 percent; spent a portion of the remaining ad budget on propaganda calling for the law’s repeal; cut the open-enrollment period by 45 days; announced that it would be taking (where people can enroll in Obamacare online) offline nearly every Sunday during that time period, for “maintenance” purposes; and described Obamacare as “a bad deal” that Americans “won’t be convinced to sign up for” in official public statements — all in a transparent bid to dent the law’s popularity by engineering a spike in insurance premiums.

A few months later, the Trump administration canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, thereby subjecting 700,000 Dreamers to the threat of deportation. Trump never made an affirmative policy argument for this decision; in fact, almost immediately after making it, the president claimed that he supported protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and implored Congress to “legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do).” The president’s only rationale for suspending the program was that it exceeded the executive branch’s constitutional authority. But this was patently disingenuous. This president has no compunction about testing the limits of his authority over immigration policy when he wants to — and, as a federal judge subsequently noted, “deferred action has been blessed by both the Supreme Court and Congress as a means to exercise enforcement discretion.”

In truth, Trump canceled DACA because he believed that he could ransom the Dreamers’ security for concessions on immigration policy. The president has openly acknowledged that this is his motivation. Last November, Trump told Politico that he did not want to negotiate over protections for Dreamers until the Supreme Court strikes down DACA (which lower courts have forced his administration to reinstate) because he believes he will have more leverage over Democrats once Dreamers are once again subject to threat of banishment from the only country they call home:

WE THEN ASKED TRUMP if he would be open to a deal with Democrats to shield DREAMERS from deportation as part of an agreement to build the wall.

THE ANSWER TO THAT seemed to be a resounding no.

“WELL, I THINK DACA is gonna be much more interesting to talk about when we go to the Supreme Court,” he said.

“IF THE SUPREME COURT DOESN’T ALLOW DACA,” he said — in other words, if it gets struck down, “we will settle every single issue we have. Does that make sense to you?

And, of course, the president recently shuttered the federal government for more than a month — deliberately inflicting economic hardship and governmental dysfunction on ordinary Americans — in a doomed attempt to force Nancy Pelosi to fund his border wall. At one point, the president suggested that he had the upper hand in the shutdown fight because “most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats.”

Thus, Trump’s sanctuary-cities proposal is consistent with his broader approach to governance over the past two years. It is perhaps more audacious — and arguably illegal — than his previous attempts to leverage his nihilism into concessions from Congress. But releasing undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities isn’t any more morally odious than sabotaging America’s health-care system, subjecting hundreds of thousands of American-raised immigrants to the threat of deportation, or shuttering the federal government for weeks on end in a fit of pique. In fact, Trump’s new gambit is much less objectionable from a moral standpoint. After all, if one rejects his racist (and empirically baseless) presumptions about the effect that undocumented immigrants have on urban life, then he is essentially threatening to provide asylum-seekers with free transportation to cities that are currently in need of more labor, and which have proved to be especially accommodating to America’s newcomers.

As far as this president’s hostage-taking threats go, that’s a rather benign proposition.

Trump’s Sanctuary-Cities Plan Is a Bid to Govern by Sabotage