In a heated meeting between the president, law enforcement and California officials, Trump depicted immigrants as a violent threat
A week after the Trump administration endorsed separating immigrant children from their parents as a deterrent against undocumented travel to the United States, Donald Trump convened a meeting of law enforcement officers and elected officials from California to blast sanctuary cities and depict immigrants as a violent threat.
New sanctuary laws protecting immigrants went into effect in California in January. While multiple localities in the state have said they will opt out of the sanctuary policy, the laws are broadly popular in the state, with support from more than 50% of residents, according to polling.
In a White House meeting that included the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and top officials from the department of homeland security and the US immigration and customs enforcement (Ice), Trump called the California policy “deadly and unconstitutional”.
“The state of California’s attempts to nullify federal law have sparked a rebellion by patriotic citizens who want their families protected and their borders secured,” Trump said. “They want border security. They want protection. That’s what we’re all about.”
Trump added that Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California, should be prosecuted for warning residents of an imminent Ice operation that may have saved some from arrest.
“I mean, you talk about obstruction of justice; I would recommend that you look into obstruction of justice for the mayor of Oakland, California, Jeff,” Trump said to the attorney general.
A small minority of undocumented immigrants are implicated in a disproportionately small number of violent crimes each year, but Trump has painted immigrants as a violent threat since the day he announced his presidential run.
Hardline immigration policies have become increasingly important to the Republican elections blueprint, and Trump’s extreme stances on the issue were a significant factor in his White House win, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
As he has at least once before, Trump in Wednesday’s meeting called members of the Central America-based MS-13 gang “animals” and vowed to step up deportations of immigrant gang members.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said. “These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
“MS-13, we’re grabbing them by the thousands and we’re getting them out,” Trump said.
The number appeared to be inflated. Ice reported removing 5,396 gang members in fiscal year 2017, according to Politifact, but MS-13 members made up less than 10% of arrests in a gang crackdown announced that year.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said last week that immigrants to the United States were uneducated and unable to assimilate, which the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman pointed out was a “canard that has been used against every wave of immigrants from every country throughout our history”.
Addressing law enforcement officers at a conference in Arizona on 7 May, Sessions said that separating families at the border was an effective way to discourage illegal immigration.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Kelly was asked last week whether that policy was inhumane.
“I wouldn’t put it quite that way,” he said. “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”
A reported surge in the number of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the US border in March prompted Trump to announce he was sending national guard troops to the border.