Acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan acknowledged Sunday that the Trump administration had considered sending migrants from Texas to Florida but ultimately decided not to because it wouldn’t have been “an effective use of resources.”
The statement by McAleenan follows an outcry from Florida officials late last week in response to the administration’s plans.
“We looked at it from a planning perspective: What’s prudent here?” McAleenan said in an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “We do have stations in Florida. We have stations on the northern border. They’re very small stations. They have a few agents that are busy patrolling their areas. There wasn’t going to be an effective use of resources. But yeah, we had to look at all options.”
McAleenan said John Sanders, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, made the decision to reverse course on Saturday. Sanders issued a statement on Saturday night indicating that CBP has “no plans to transport people in our custody to northern or coastal border facilities,” including Florida.
The debate comes as the United States is facing a record number of migrant families crossing into the country along the southern border. The influx has strained U.S. Border Patrol resources so far beyond capacity that the crisis is spilling into the country’s interior.
Border Patrol authorities say they have apprehended an average of 4,500 people each day along the southwest border, and the number of people in CBP custody recently surpassed 17,500.
Last week, local officials in Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach counties sounded the alarm after the Trump administration told them it planned to send about 1,000 asylum seekers a month to those counties from the El Paso area. Neither county has sanctuary status limiting cooperation with immigration authorities, but both are heavily Democratic.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), an ally of President Trump, also spoke out against sending migrants to the state.
“President @realDonaldTrump and I spoke yesterday and confirmed that he did not approve, nor would approve, sending immigrants who illegally cross the border, to Florida. It is not going to happen,” DeSantis said in a tweet Sunday morning.
The White House twice floated a plan to send migrants to sanctuary cities and states — in November and in February — in retaliation against the president’s political opponents. Both times, administration officials rejected the idea. Even so, Trump has falsely claimed on the campaign trail that migrants are being sent to sanctuary jurisdictions and even said that it was his own “sick idea” to do so.
In his statement Saturday night, Sanders blamed “inaccurate reports in the press” for misinformation about CBP’s plans. Asked to clarify, McAleenan said Sunday that Sanders was referring to reports that flights had already taken off for Florida.
McAleenan also said that Trump’s suggestion that the administration is sending migrants to sanctuary cities was incorrect.
“Our transportation is based on operational necessity, capacity to process safely. That’s what we’re doing,” McAleenan said. Some migrants have already been moved from Texas to San Diego, which has a “high-capacity Border Patrol sector,” he added.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that McAleenan had said he might leave his post unless he was given more control over his agency amid an attempted shake-up by senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller. One Trump aide likened the internal tensions to an “immigration knife fight.”
McAleenan on Sunday disputed that he had threatened to leave over the issue.
“I did not threaten to quit, no,” he said, adding: “I’m going to work on solving this problem as long as I have that opportunity. No question.”
Abigail Hauslohner, Nick Miroff and Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report.