White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against President Trump’s political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages reviewed by The Washington Post.
Trump administration officials have proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the past six months — once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S. southern border, and again in February, amid a standoff with Democrats over funding for Trump’s border wall.

White House officials were candid about their motives. ("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.”) In this case, DHS officials pushed back and killed the idea.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose San Francisco district would have fit the administration’s definition of a sanctuary city, spoke for many Americans, declaring that "the extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated. Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”

If you find it hard to imagine the mind-set of someone who would do such a thing, remember that Trump has consistently dehumanized migrants — calling them “animals,” describing their asylum efforts as an “infestation," claiming there are terrorists in their midst and generally characterizing them as “very bad” people. It’s then not so surprising that he would try to weaponize migrants against his political enemies, whom he refers to as “treasonous.”

Frank Sharry, who heads the progressive, pro-immigration group America’s Voice, tells me, “It’s despicable, cynical, desperate and cruel. Trump and [senior adviser Stephen] Miller see immigrants as less than human, Democrats as un-American, and democracy as a zero-sum blood sport.”

The only remotely similar instance in which political operatives attempted to use public resources to punish political enemies was Bridgegate, in which multiple aides to former New Jersey governor Chris Christie were convicted of crimes, including “misappropriation of funds,” in connection with the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge in retaliation against Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had refused to endorse Christie’s reelection bid. In both cases, government resources were deployed for political revenge, possibly putting residents at risk and certainly inconveniencing them. In Bridgegate, the weapons of choice were traffic cones; for the Trump crowd, it was human beings.

It’s not clear whether the plan, which was never carried out, would have been technically illegal. But by any standard, it was an abomination and evidence that this crowd serves its own political ends, not the American people.

At any rate, anyone with common sense should know that firing a slew of senior DHS officials was going to lead to a raft of embarrassing revelations. It’s important that the American people find out what was really going on over there.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee should immediately conduct an investigation and call as witnesses both current DHS employees and the slew of recently fired ones. The committee needs to determine who was involved in this scheme. May Davis, deputy assistant to the president and deputy White House policy coordinator, wrote the memo to DHS pushing the idea, but who above her cooked this up? A congressional investigator, according to The Post, claims that “it was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out. 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 must be subpoenaed as well. If accurate, there should be a bipartisan demand for his resignation. And then the question will remain: What did Trump know, and when did he know it?

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