So it looks like Donald Trump actually is seriously entertaining the idea of shipping off immigrants to sanctuary cities such as San Francisco. Earlier today the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was “eyeing districts of political adversaries, including that of Nancy Pelosi, to release detainees.” I must confess that I first ignored the story. The early reporting indicated that the idea originated with an aide named May Davis — not with Trump himself — and was quickly rejected. It seemed like just another bad idea that died a properly quick death after evaluation by sober minds.
But then Trump tweeted, and so I suppose we have to actually talk about this nonsense. Here is his tweet:
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 J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2019
We need better border security. We need to reform our asylum laws. And we can only do both things truly effectively through congressional action, but the idea that you can use human beings as pawns to punish your political enemies is not only repugnant, it’s politically disastrous.
First, to the extent that the order applies to immigrants seeking asylum, we have to remember that they’re exercising a legal right. The relevant statute is broad and clear:
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including analien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.
The idea that we will then punish people who are exercising legal rights granted by our own government by shipping them to domestic locations chosen for purely partisan and punitive purposes is plainly wrong. Depending on the circumstances, it can even be cruel.
If a person who lacks resources has a place to stay with, say, an aunt in Waco, is it right or reasonable to ship them to Silicon Valley?
Moreover, if the actual goal is to deport an illegal immigrant rather than use him or her to punish your enemies, then why send them to sanctuary cities that make deportation more difficult? And if Trump truly believes his hyperbole about illegal immigrant crime, how can we interpret his tweet as anything other than floating an intentional effort to sow chaos in specific American cities?
From a purely political standpoint, how does this not backfire? It’s remarkable the extent to which he seems to think that if he’s just mean enough, his foes will fold. San Francisco will not cry “uncle” if Trump starts bussing migrants to the city. Instead, I can predict what will happen. Compassion will become an act of resistance, and the city (and broader Bay Area community) with perhaps the most formidable private philanthropic resources in the world would certainly rally to publicly support the men and women involuntarily removed to their town.
Imagine the media circus when the first bus arrives, and it’s greeted by a constellation of activists, church leaders, and regular citizens. If the policy lasted as long as the first travel ban, it would almost certainly be enjoined in short order. So Trump’s policy wouldn’t last, his opponents would gain an immense public relations victory, and the border still wouldn’t be secure.
All of this is plainly obvious. That’s why cooler heads had prevailed when the idea was floated months ago. And that’s why they’ll likely prevail again. But because Trump tweeted, the fight just got more urgent. His bad idea can’t be ignored. It must be rebutted.