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How Trump Helped Make Busing Migrants a Republican Tactic


In the autumn of 2018, President Donald J. Trump was pushing aides on an idea he desired to perform on the border — transporting undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities.

The thought had simmered for months, culminating in a call Mr. Trump placed to Kirstjen Nielsen, his homeland security secretary.

Mr. Trump, Ms. Nielsen’s former chief of staff recalled, desired to round up migrants in Republican-controlled states and “bus and dump” them in major cities. He desired to bus migrants who had been deemed to be “murderers, rapists and criminals” to places, reminiscent of California, where officials had declined to assist perform the administration’s rigorous deportation policies, based on the previous chief of staff, Miles Taylor.

The thought never advanced within the Trump administration, partly due to legal concerns. But 4 years later, three Republican governors have brought it to visceral life, busing and flying 1000’s of migrants — not only criminals — from the border and dropping them off in Martha’s Vineyard, Recent York City and other Democratic-leaning areas.

The previous president’s influence on the Republican Party may be measured not only within the electoral victories and losses of the candidates he endorses but in addition within the nativism that has come to define the party’s immigration politics. The Republican governors of Arizona, Florida and Texas turned an abandoned Trumpian notion into motion, inspired by his hard-line immigration policies in addition to his taste for a combative form of political theater.

“The immigration policies of the Trump administration at the moment are the baseline even for Republican congressional leadership and Republican candidates across the country,” said John A. Zadrozny, a former Trump administration official.

In recent weeks, the three governors — Greg Abbott of Texas, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Doug Ducey of Arizona — have been criticized for treating desperate migrants fleeing Venezuela and other countries as political pawns. Migrants have been sent to blue cities, states and even vacation spots where local officials were caught by surprise and lacked a support network for people in search of refuge.

Mr. Trump routinely pushed his administration to exceed the bounds of what the law would allow. The practice of shipping humans across the country to attain political points — an echo of the Reverse Freedom Rides of the early Sixties, when Southern segregationists sent Black families to Northern cities as a racist stunt — underscores how far to the suitable Republicans have shifted on immigration since Mr. Trump’s rise, often with a callousness that they consider appeals to their voting base.

Todd Schulte, the president of the immigration advocacy group FWD.us, said he viewed Mr. Trump’s family separation program and the Republican governors’ migrant bus and plane trips as two similar “cruel efforts to fabricate chaos” on the border.

A spokesman for the previous president, Taylor Budowich, said Mr. Trump had fought to secure America’s Southern border and noted that others were doing what he had proposed. “Republicans across our country proceed to follow his lead on this necessary issue and others in support of his America First movement,” Mr. Budowich said.

But the thought’s origin story is murky.

Three years before Mr. Trump promoted the migrant-transportation concept within the White House in 2018, Mike Huckabee, the previous governor of Arkansas, publicly floated similar ideas while he was running for president.

On the time, refugees from the Syrian civil war were arriving in the USA. Mr. Huckabee suggested sending them to politically sensitive spots, including Chappaqua, N.Y., where Hillary Clinton owned a house; Burlington, Vt., where Senator Bernie Sanders had been mayor; and the Obama White House.

“You bought loads of people on the market on the left who think that that’s what we must be doing,” Mr. Huckabee said in a November 2015 interview on CNN. “Fantastic. Let’s put them of their neighborhoods.”

Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that advocates restricting immigration, said that the notion of sending migrants to other cities was “form of an old chestnut,” adding, “It’s just that no one pulled the trigger on it.”

Within the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump began discussing the thought along with his advisers, based on former officials. Nevertheless it was not until 2018 that he explicitly demanded that officials make such a move, former Trump administration officials recall.

Around the identical time, Mr. Huckabee’s daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then the White House press secretary, had suggested transporting migrants in such a way, former officials recalled. Nevertheless it seemed to be raised as more of a talking point than as a serious policy request. There was never a budgetary consideration about it, one former senior administration official said.

Former officials said that Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to Mr. Trump and an immigration hard-liner, was in contact with officials on the Department of Homeland Security concerning the concept at one point, but they emphasized that it was not his idea.

The administration’s immigration lawyers questioned the legality of such a move. Congress had not approved money for that purpose, they noted. There was also some reluctance amongst White House aides who believed that Mr. Trump’s immigration policy had been tailored around deportations — not helping send undocumented immigrants deeper into the country.

Of the Republicans who’ve appropriated Mr. Trump’s public call to send migrants to Democratic-led places, Mr. Abbott has had a very close relationship with the previous administration, especially with Mr. Miller.

Texas was involved in lawsuits related to the administration’s immigration efforts. The state’s attorney general also threatened to sue if the White House didn’t follow through on its desire to finish the Obama-era policy often known as DACA, through which undocumented immigrants dropped at the U.S. after they were younger were spared deportation.

Mr. Miller had what one Republican called a “solid relationship” with Mr. Abbott throughout the Trump administration. But an individual near Mr. Miller said that he had not advised any of the governors on their recent actions.

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