SAN DIEGO — There is plenty disgust to go around in the immigration debate.
We should condemn anyone who treats immigrants or refugees as if they were weapons of mass destruction that can unleashed on a region to punish one’s enemies. But that shouldn’t stop us from denouncing those intended recipients who squeamishly recoil and batten down the hatches in the face of such a threat because they buy into that offensive characterization.
This conversation about what to do with uninvited guests who show up at the back door has magical powers.
It makes conservatives lose their minds. These people have spent decades devising guest worker programs that would recruit foreign laborers to please business interests. And now they want to flip the script and give us all nightmares by portraying some of these same types of foreigners as lawless gatecrashers, greedy takers, and dangerous predators?
But it also makes liberals lose their way. When criticizing the administration’s ham-fisted approach — including breaking apart families that the rudderless Department of Homeland Security can’t put back together — those on the Left assured us that the folks clamoring at the gate were good people fleeing bad situations. So when did Democrats become so afraid of good people?
President Trump and his administration are actively considering a provocative plan of what to do with some of the thousands of immigrants and refugees that are being apprehended and detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
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In a finger-in-your-eye maneuver that will surely be dubbed “Operation Special Delivery,” the White House is toying with the idea of rounding up detainees and sending them to some of the several hundred so-called sanctuary cities, counties and states that claim to welcome the undocumented and protect them from deportation.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted: “Just out: The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities. We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California, which is well known or its poor management & high taxes!”
The next day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed on “Fox News Sunday” that the proposed relocation plan is undergoing a "complete and thorough review.”
Sanctuary cities are mythical right now
You know what needs review? It’s the concept of “sanctuary” anything. It’s a total fraud.
Here are three reasons: No one can define what “sanctuary” means, and rather than a safe haven it sometimes means nothing more than curtailing the degree to which local and state police officers cooperate with federal immigration officials; federal law enforcement agencies don’t take orders from local and state governments; and, despite what they say, local and state officials don’t relish the possibility of illegal immigrants committing violent crimes on their watch so they keep open the possibility of removing them.
Not many people on either the Right or Left understand the immigration debate well enough to see through the sanctuary myth.
What people understand is politics. And so, Trump’s plan to relocate immigrants and refugees has been roundly criticized by Democrats and their surrogates in the liberal, Trump-hating media as a callous and outrageous stunt.
On Thursday, Ashley Etienne, spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement:
“The extent of this Administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated. Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable, and in some cases, criminal.”
I’d use other words to describe Trump’s plan to relocate immigrants and refugees. Like brilliant. Or illuminating. The more I think about the plan, the more I like it. For one thing, it provides clarity.
Trump's plan exposes ugliness on both sides
It’s true that the administration perpetuates fear and demonizing immigrants, but they’re not the only ones.
When dealing with immigrants and refugees, Trump and the Republican Party that he has hijacked have a gift for saying and doing things that are dumb, cruel, and even racist. The Democrats take full advantage of these missteps by spinning fantastical yarns about how they’re much more enlightened, caring and compassionate toward our uninvited guests to the point where they offer “sanctuary.”
Thanks to Trump’s plan to give these so-called sanctuary cities, counties and states what they claim they want, we now see both parties for who they really are. And it’s ugly.
But it is also poetic — and not just in the way that the White House thinks. If this plan were ever implemented, and hundreds or even thousands of immigrants and refugees were sent to cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Phoenix or Los Angeles, you can bet that the next thing to happen would be that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would discreetly get a stand down order to not remove from those cities the same people who were just put there.
There would likely be a cooling off period in interior immigration enforcement. And — as a result of this bizarre turn of events, in ways that no one expected, and to the chagrin of both sides of the debate — the myth of “sanctuary” would finally become a reality.
Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and host of the daily podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Follow him on Twitter: @RubenNavarrette
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's plan to put immigrants in sanctuary cities exposes real ugliness in both parties