On the one hand, Trump said Saturday evening, “Democrats must change the Immigration Laws FAST. If not, Sanctuary Cities must immediately ACT to take care of the Illegal Immigrants.” He later dropped the “if”: “The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities. We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California.” That sounds like a president who has picked his desired policy.
But apparently the president didn’t tell his staff that things were so definite. “Look, this is an option on the table,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” But “that’s not our first choice, probably not even our second or third choice,” she added. After all, “that was brought up at a staff level, and it was determined at that time that, logistically, there were a lot of challenges and it probably didn’t make sense to move forward, and the idea did not go further.” It was a similar story from Sanders over on “Fox News Sunday,” where she said, “Nobody thinks this is the ideal solution.” For counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the plan wasn’t so much dead as nonexistent, with Conway barely mentioning the proposal until prompted by host Chuck Todd.
Why the gulf between the president and his most prominent spokespeople? Perhaps they realize, even if the president doesn’t, that such a plan is legally, logistically and ethically questionable, not to mention self-defeating. Transporting detainees would take up time and personnel the government doesn’t have, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s own lawyers already rejected the idea, and making policy based primarily around hurting political opponents is a terrible precedent. Beyond that, the plan’s premise that residents of these sanctuary cities are secretly as xenophobic as the president is simply wrong; mayors of Seattle, Oakland and other such cities have already said they would welcome these migrants. And providing migrants transportation to these cities would make it easier for them to settle in the United States long term, again running counter to Trump’s anti-immigrant goals. When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed this out to Sanders, she could only reply, “Again, this isn’t the president’s plan.”
Or perhaps the gulf exists because Trump’s flacks and lackeys realize it doesn’t really matter what they say. After all, this president has promised his base a border wall for years; as long as he says, “We’re building it,” his supporters will believe him and blame anyone other than him for the inconvenient fact that there’s no country-long border wall. Similarly, the immense legal and logistical barriers to the sanctuary cities idea seem to matter little, as long as Trump says he’s doing it. What a way to run a country.