The White House sought to punish Democrats by capturing, transporting, and then releasing undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The White House first pressured immigration officials in November to arrest migrants traveling in the highly-publicized caravans and relocate them “to small and mid-sized sanctuary cities," the Post learned through discussions with DHS insiders and emails obtained from those involved.
Per the Post:
"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.'"
"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. One of the whistleblowers spoke with The Washington Post, and several DHS officials confirmed the accounts. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations."
DHS sources also told CNN that Trump himself had pressed former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned last week, to implement the plan.
ICE reportedly rejected the idea after it was proposed a second time in February by immigration hardliner Stephen Miller, one of Trump's closest advisors. The plan was a proverbial middle finger to Democrats who have clashed with Trump over funding for a border wall.
“It was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out,” said one congressional investigator who spoke anonymously to protect DHS 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.”
Miller became frustrated with DHS officials who would not find a way to make it legally achievable, leading to Miller advocating for the firing of DHS counsel John Mitnick, who is still with the department.
“If we would have done that, we would have had to expend transportation resources, and make a decision that we’re going to use buses, planes, etc., to send these aliens to a place for whatever reason,” a senior DHS official said. “We had to come up with a reason, and we did not have one.”
This is very on-brand for Trump.
Some Americans who live in sanctuary cities are actually open to the idea.
Many are ready to welcome immigrants into their communities.
DHS personnel, however, were shocked at the cruelty.
"These are human beings, not game pieces," one DHS official said.
Another noted that immigrants may not have necessarily had any ties to cities chosen as dropoff locations. Instead, the plan was predicated solely on sticking it to Democrats.
“It was retaliation, to show them, ‘Your lack of cooperation has impacts,’ ” said one of the DHS officials. “I think they thought it would put pressure on those communities to understand, I guess, a different perspective on why you need more immigration money for detention beds.”
The office of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who hails from San Francisco, excoriated the plan.
"The extent of this administration's cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated," Pelosi spokesperson Ashley Etienne said in a statement. "Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable, and in some cases, criminal. The American people have resoundingly rejected this Administration's toxic anti-immigrant policies, and Democrats will continue to advance immigration policies that keep us safe and honor our values."
The White House downplayed the effort in a statement on Thursday as "just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion."