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Photo: US Customs and Border Protection

You might think you've lost your ability to be surprised by the Trump administration. But we'll confess, we were briefly taken aback by the Washington Post's revelation that the White House planned to dump detained immigrants on the streets of "sanctuary" cities, to retaliate against Democrats who wouldn't fund WALL. The REALLY astonishing thing? The plan was so ridiculous that even top officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rejected it as "inappropriate." Remember, that's an agency that's OK with going after a kid with cerebral palsy (at a hospital, no less), a guy with Down syndrome, and family members trying to get kids out of baby jails. It also occasionally arrests and tries to deport US citizens thanks to bad data, oops. So "inappropriate" for ICE is a heck of thing.

Of course, now that Donald Trump is hollowing out the entire Department of Homeland Security and ejecting people who quibble about whether policies are "legal," Crom only knows what wonderful schemes from the galaxy brain of Stephen Miller may now go forward.

The Post reports there were two versions of the proposal, according to "two DHS whistleblowers who independently reported the busing plan to Congress."


One was to move migrants who were already in ICE detention to the districts of Democratic opponents. The second option was to bus migrants apprehended at the border to sanctuary cities, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

The scheme was floated twice in the last few months: once in November 2018, when Trump was in full caravan panic mode, and again during negotiations to keep the government open in February of this year. In addition to speaking to one of the whistleblowers, the Post also obtained emails documenting this very excellent idea.

White House officials first broached the plan in a Nov. 16 email, asking officials at several agencies whether members of the caravan could be arrested at the border and then bused "to small- and mid-sized sanctuary cities," places where local authorities have refused to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation.

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."

When the idea arose again in February as a way to pressure Democrats to drop a proposal to limit the total number of ICE detention beds (with the goal of forcing the agency to only hold and deport actual violent criminals), ICE's legal department got involved and said nahh, we can't do that, because ICE is only authorized to transport people who are on the way to deportation, not bus them to Democratic districts for the lulz. Yes, even though Stephen Miller was really hot on the idea of flooding Nancy Pelosi's district with confused migrant families who had no idea why they'd been dumped in San Francisco.

The scheme had Trump immigration kapo Stephen Miller's pawprints all over it, although WaPo notes his name doesn't appear in any of the emails. DHS sources confirmed Miller had "discussed the proposal with ICE," and a congressional investigator who'd spoken with one of the whistleblowers said the same:

"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." The investigator spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the whistleblower.

The November email, with subject line "Sanctuary City Proposal," came from May Davis, a "deputy assistant to the president and deputy White House policy coordinator," who wrote to several officials at ICE, DHS, and Customs and Border Protection to get their feedback on whether the idea would work, or for that matter be legal. The "let's send immigrants to Nancy Pelosi's house!" intention isn't hard to suss out.

"The idea has been raised by 1-2 principals that, if we are unable to build sufficient temporary housing, that caravan members be bussed to small- and mid-sized sanctuary cities," Davis wrote.

Why yes, that's not dissimilar to the hilarious trolling by Jacob Wohl and Laura Loomer in January, during the government shutdown, when they took three guys they thought were "undocumented immigrants" to Pelosi's house, climbed over a low fence, and banged on the doors. And haha, in the process, they tried to get the men arrested and deported because they were all trespassing. It's almost as if there's no meaningful distinction between rightwing trolling for publicity and actual government policy. You can imagine how this came up. "Hey, remember how they used to get rid of homeless people by just putting 'em on a bus to a sunny state?"

Once the idea got to ICE, however, acting deputy director Matthew Albence wrote that it didn't make a heck of a lot of sense from an operational standpoint, as if that were the point at all.

Albence replied that such a plan "would create an unnecessary operational burden" on an already strained organization and raised concerns about its appropriateness, writing: "Not sure how paying to transport aliens to another location to release them — when they can be released on the spot — is a justified expenditure. Not to mention the liability should there be an accident along the way."

That guy is just no fun at all. When the administration started pushing the idea again in February, it was framed even more clearly as political revenge against Democrats, whom the administration was trying to portray as advocating the release of DANGEROUS CRIMINAL ALIENS instead of prodding ICE to hold only the baddies and release detainees whose only offenses involved illegal border crossings. The Post story doesn't say whether anyone specifically suggested releasing actual criminals into sanctuary cities, or just run of the mill detainees, who are also all rapists and murderers anyway. One thing's for certain: The plan had nothing to do with the well-being of the detainees, because pfft, are they even people?

The White House urged ICE to channel releases to sanctuary districts, regardless of whether immigrants had any ties to those places.

"It was retaliation, to show them, 'Your lack of cooperation has impacts,' " said one of the DHS officials, summarizing the rationale. "I think they thought it would put pressure on those communities to understand, I guess, a different perspective on why you need more immigration money for detention beds."

ICE's legal team never got as far as a formal legal review, but senior lawyers told Albence the plan "was inappropriate and lacked a legal basis."

"If we would have done that, we would have had to expend transportation resources, and make a decision that we're going to use buses, planes, etc., to send these aliens to a place for whatever reason," a senior DHS official said. "We had to come up with a reason, and we did not have one."

Shortly afterward, Democrats dropped their push to limit detention beds, and the whole idea was dropped. But this is the Trump administration, where terrible ideas never go away altogether, so get ready for another round of this fuckery. In contrast to the usual complete denial or refusal to comment on a press story, spokespeople for both Albence and the White House confirmed the idea had been floated but rejected. We'd say it would be a good idea for Congress to press the administration to promise they won't revive the idea, but what would any promise like that mean, anyway?

Also, since Albence is now going to replace Ronald Vitiello as ICE's acting director, it's worth noting how well he fits in with the Team Of Trolls, his opposition to this scheme notwithstanding. As Buzzfeed reminds us, Albence was the asshole who told Congress last August not to worry about the privately run baby jails, because look how cushy they are!

I think the best way to describe them is to be more like a summer camp. These individuals have access to 24/7 food and water. They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities. There's basketball courts. There's exercise classes. There are soccer fields that we put in there.

As we said at the time, We bet Albence doesn't even know the Spanish word for "Theresienstadt." And now he'll be running ICE, hooray.

UPDATE: Well OF COURSE the Dipshit in Chief is now very very pleased with the idea, and probably planning to make it part of his next rally and fundraising email.

Dead giveaway this was probably not written by Trump: it's an actual threaded pair of tweets, and just look at the proper use of commas. Yeah, Steve, we know you're running things now.

[WaPo / Buzzfeed]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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