Trump's plan to send migrant detainees to sanctuary cities raises concerns about costs and legality

Central American migrants, members of a caravan hoping to reach the US border, walk Friday on the shoulder of a road in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. President Trump wants to stop migrants at the border and send them to "sanctuary cities". (Isabel Mateos / AP)

If President Trump followed up on a proposal to liberate migrants from "sanctuary towns" in the United States, this would be a significant change from the way federal agencies treat detainees. It could also be expensive and make it more difficult for migrants to be expelled once they reach these cities.

The plan – which Trump tweeted Friday is under "serious consideration" – would like the Department of Homeland Security to move migrants from detention centers to scattered cities across the country in vans, buses and planes. This would require massive investments in transport infrastructure, which, according to officials from Immigration and Customs, would be an "unnecessary operational burden".

This would also mean placing these detainees in cities limiting their cooperation with the federal immigration authorities, which would mean that it could be very difficult to stop them again.

During the recent wave of crossings of families from Central America to the United States, most were apprehended on or near the southern border of Mexico. With a shortage of detention beds, the US government mainly releases families into shelters or bus depots. Detainees are sometimes released directly into the streets of border towns, allowing immigration authorities to devote staff and funds to deportations and criminal operations.

Trump's proposal, which, according to government officials, aims to punish the Democrats' strong stance on immigration policy, calls for detainees to be sent to sanctuary towns where they can live without fear of local authorities denounce them to the federal authorities. There are hundreds of sanctuary jurisdictions throughout the country, ranging from small rural counties to New York City and the entire state of California.

On March 4, President Trump asked the National Association of Attorneys General to ensure that "their states and cities cooperate fully with the Department of Homeland Security" (The Washington Post).

According to DHS officials, the idea seemed to rest on the belief that an influx of migrants would be a burden on the sanctuary cities. Trump has long argued that killers, rapists and drug traffickers cross the border and that releasing migrants into American society poses a security risk. In fact, studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.

The mayors of these cities on Friday condemned the White House plan, most of them calling it an unrealistic political coup. Some have already successfully fought legal battles against the Trump administration's threat two years ago to slash federal funding for sanctuary cities.

Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland, Calif., Called the plan "outrageous abuse of power: using human beings to settle political accounts". The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, said that "this is just another example of a long series of alarmist tactics. cooked ideas. "

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Mass., With a population of 81,000, said he would welcome any immigrants the government would like to send.

"It suits me," he said on Twitter, referring Trump. "But does he realize that the moment after people are" placed ", they will begin to settle where they want to go? Every city has an open border."

Opponents and proponents of the proposal to make County Howard a shrine county fill rooms before the council vote on February 6, 2017 in Ellicott City, Maryland (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post).

Homeland Security prefers to detain immigrants until their deportation, but officials release tens of thousands of people each year due to massive immigration from Central America, the growing number of families, limited holding space and legal restrictions on the length of government detention.

The United States Customs and Border Protection apprehended 103,000 migrants last month, double the number registered in March 2018, including nearly 60,000 family members.

CBP generally transfers migrants to ICE to detain them, although this year there have been so many detention cells that border services officers have begun to release some families at the border. ICE can also release migrants on ties or ankle monitoring devices after checking their future address and giving them a notice of appearance in the immigration court. Unaccompanied migrants are sent to health and social services centers, where social workers find a parent or guardian with whom they can live in the United States.

Congress has allocated billions of dollars to this system, and none of this involves transporting immigrants to sanctuary cities – which some say makes the president's plan illegal.

"That makes no sense," said John Sandweg, acting director of the ICE in 2013 and 2014 under the Obama administration, adding that it would violate federal law by diverting money from the government. money "for political purposes".

"At a time like this, when ICE is simply overwhelmed by the number of arrivals from Central America, it is outrageous to divert additional resources to send a political message," he said. declared.

Sandweg said the government would "pay a lot of money" for the White House plan to send migrants to sanctuary towns. In addition to transportation costs, officials should assign immigration officers to accompany them to their destinations. Currently, migrants usually buy their own bus or plane tickets.

"It's ridiculous," Sandweg said. "It's an extreme interference in operations."

Matthew Albence, interim deputy director of ICE, challenged the proposal in an email to the White House in November, after being first mentioned as a possibility, saying that taking over transport would weigh on department and weaken its repressive efforts.

"Due to the influx of people at the border and the record number of foreigners in detention, we have already had to reduce our internal operational footprint to handle these cases, which has had the effect of reducing the number Officers on the streets making arrests of criminal aliens, public safety, threats, fugitives and other immigration offenders, "wrote Albence in an email reviewed by the Washington Post "I do not know how to pay the transportation of foreigners to another place to release them – when they can be released on the spot – is a justified expense."

After considering Albency's advice not to pursue this idea, the White House returned to DHS in February to try again. The legal advisers rejected it.

Jessica Vaughan, director of political studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the plan would give migrants a free ride to their destinations. Because sanctuary cities often refuse to send back migrants arrested for crimes to ICE, sending them there could make it more difficult to apprehend the deportation later, she said.

Vaughan said that White House officials, new to immigration policy, have probably exceeded their goals.

"There are a lot of immigration policy enthusiasts in positions of responsibility at the White House, and some of them should stay in their hallway – which is not the case. immigration, "she said.

In the 2016 election campaign, Trump said blocking funding for sanctuary cities would be a top priority. She said at the time: "Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer money and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect the jurisdictions that assist federal authorities. . "

But Congress has not passed such legislation, and Trump's other efforts to stem migration face legal challenges. At least seven federal courts have prevented the Trump administration from cutting funds to the sanctuary jurisdictions.

Vaughan said the Trump administration had subordinated some of the Justice Department 's crime – fighting grants to local cooperation with immigration control services. But generally, this is limited to a provision of federal law stipulating that local governments can not prohibit communication between police and federal immigration officials.

The law does not require localities to arrest immigrants after the police have arrested them for an unrelated crime, but ICE can recover them when a judge releases them from their criminal cases.

After Trump took office, sanctuary jurisdictions initially feared restricting federal funding for school meals, fuel subsidies and other essential programs. But these fears faded as they prevailed in court.

Hundreds of localities have since stepped up their sanctuary policies, according to the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center. California adopted a list of new laws and the highest court in Massachusetts said that local law enforcement could not detain someone on the sole basis of a detainee of the law. 39; immigration.

Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville, said the city would be "always a sanctuary and a welcoming city for all" and that an influx of immigrants would not change much for cities like his.

"Somerville is experiencing a wave of continuous immigration for over a century from Europe and people from the Caribbean, Central and South America," he said at of a telephone interview. "We speak more than 52 languages ​​in our neighborhoods and schools. We kiss him. "

Fred Barbash contributed to this report.

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