President Donald Trump may have assumed that his proposal to release undocumented immigrants into so-called “sanctuary cities” would back Democrats into a corner on the issue of immigration. But the local officials in those cities he’s targeting don’t seem to actually find the prospect all that foreboding.
Instead, when asked about the plan—which would entail bussing migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border to be released in cities that do not cooperate with federal law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants—mayors of major cities, regional capitals and medium-sized towns told Headline News said that they would welcome those currently being detained.
“The city would be prepared to welcome these immigrants just as we have embraced our immigrant communities for decades,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told Headline News in a statement. “This White House plan demonstrates the utter contempt that the Trump administration has for basic human dignity and the core values on which this nation was founded.”
“As a welcoming city, we would welcome these migrants with open arms, just as we welcomed Syrian refugees, just as we welcomed Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria and just as we welcome Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.
“I am proud that Cambridge is a sanctuary city,” Mayor Marc McGovern of Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Headline News. “Trump is a schoolyard bully who tries to intimidate and threaten people. I’m not intimidated and if asylum seekers find their way to Cambridge, we’ll welcome them.”
The response to Trump’s proposal is almost certainly not what the president expected and reflects the vast gulf that is growing between the two parties on immigration policy. The president’s idea was presented as a threat meant to scare Democrats into admitting that they wouldn’t be as accommodating of immigrant communities as they have pledged to be.
“We’ll give ’em to the sanctuary cities, maybe, to take care of, if that’s the way they want it,” Trump said during an event originally intended to pitch U.S. companies on the deployment of 5G technology. “We are looking at the possibility, strongly looking at it, to be honest with you.”
“We’ll give them more people,” Trump continued. “We can give them an unlimited supply—let’s see if they have open arms.”
How serious the administration is about pushing the idea remains unclear. The White House originally denied that they were seriously considering busing undocumented immigrants and migrants detained at the border to sanctuary cities, saying it was “just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.” But the president has since leaned into it, even tweeting that he was giving it “strong consideration.”
That gambit, experts say, is both logistically and legally dubious. And multiple mayors told Headline News that it only makes the Trump administration’s immigration policy look incoherent.
“Like so many issues we are forced to talk about during this presidency, this isn’t a real idea or a real proposal, it’s just another scare tactic,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. The city, home to the congressional district currently held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is specifically mentioned as a potential target of Trump’s policy. “Every time we talk about the president’s latest tweet… we aren’t talking about a path to citizenship for the over 10 million undocumented immigrants in our country.”
Some pointed out that the proposal would only exacerbate what the president has characterized as an immigration crisis.
“Humans are not pawns. This is not a game. These are people’s lives,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Portland will continue to protect its sanctuary status in accordance with Oregon law and the U.S. Constitution. We strongly denounce the cruel efforts of this administration to retaliate against sanctuary cities.”
Previous Trump administration threats to retaliate against sanctuary cities have not materialized into actual policy. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had vowed to withhold federal law enforcement grants from jurisdictions that declined to cooperate with ICE. But 29 of 30 municipalities that had received Sessions’ letters still ended up receiving those grants. Federal courts also sided with sanctuary cities after Trump issued an executive order restricting federal funding for such cities.
“It’s a sign of the president’s tremendous weakness as an executive and weakness as a leader, and of the degree to which he pales in comparison all of his recent predecessors,” Mayor Daniel Drew of Middletown, Connecticut told Headline News. “This threat is hollow and more than anything is a sign of the tremendous weakness of the Trump administration.”
In Coachella, the California desert town famous for its music festival, Mayor Steven Hernandez told Headline News that the city already works with outside organizations to ensure that undocumented immigrants are able to integrate into the community. Were the administration to bus in migrants from the border, Hernandez said, the community would welcome them.
“We have already been working alongside partners to ensure that recently arrived families, women and children get the services they need to make their successful transition into America,” he said.
Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, were exasperated with the president’s latest immigration gambit, and said they stand willing to work on policy if the White House would quit with the posturing.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who represents part of San Jose, a sanctuary jurisdiction, called on Trump to propose “real solutions.”
“Most of the communities he believes people should be going to are ones who would believe in just processing and treating people humanely and having that process,” Khanna told Headline News by phone. “Is he gonna pay for people to be flown in there? Is he going to be paying for judges? It’s just logistically infeasible.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s Montgomery County, a jurisdiction ICE has called consistently not cooperative, said that the political conditions were actually ripe for negotiations with the White House and congressional Republicans.
“It’s unfortunate that the president is in such a dark and vindictive state of mind. I don’t know where he thinks that leads,” added Raskin. “He’s a day trader. He’ll be off on another idea tomorrow.”