Threats to pull ICE out of California beyond irresponsible

Threats to pull ICE out of California beyond irresponsible
© Getty

Take that, California. On Thursday, President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE said that he was so frustrated with the state’s “lousy management job” on immigration that he was thinking about pulling federal immigration agents from the state. “If we ever pulled our ICE out, if we ever said, ‘Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back,” the president said during a meeting with state and local officials about school shootings. “They would be begging. And you know what? I’m thinking about doing it.”

If we are to take Trump seriously, his comments were appalling and irresponsible. If he were being flip, his comments were childish and mean-spirited. Either way, his threat reveals his ignorance both about our government and the law.

Trump is angry with California because, last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Values Act into law, which limits state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. It does not preclude ICE agents from doing their jobs in California; it simply lets local police concentrate on protecting their communities and leaves immigration enforcement to the feds.

California is home to more than two million undocumented immigrants, the largest such population in the country.  

For Trump, whose administration has taken aim at so-called “sanctuary cities,” the idea of a “sanctuary state” is apparently too much. That led to his rant against California on Thursday. “If I wanted to pull our people from California, you’d would have a crime mess like you’d never seen in California,” he said. “You’d see crime like you’d never seen in this country.” In context, these comments were seriously off-topic; what do ICE agents have to do with shootings?  

Now consider what Trump is suggesting. Our chief executive is threatening to unilaterally endanger nearly 40 million people because he does not like the laws that their legislature passed. The idea itself is staggering, and wrong on every level.

Trump is not an emperor and does not have the power to punish one state in such a manner. It would be a clear violation of precedent established by the Supreme Court that says states cannot be conscripted to carry out federal law. Trump’s threat would appear to violate existing statutes, which bar threatening the deprivation of federal law enforcement for purposes of serving a political agenda, as well as the equal protection clause of the constitution.

Legal issues aside, Trump’s comments are an insult to the nearly 80,000 law enforcement officers who protect California. To claim that the state would experience “crime like they’ve never seen” diminishes the work that the state’s police officers and sheriffs do every day.

Lashing out at California lawmakers, Trump falsely claimed that the state has the highest taxes in the nation and “they don’t know what they’re doing out there.” In fact, Trump’s home state of New York has the nation’s highest taxes, while California comes in at tenth place. Violent crime in the Golden State is at historic lows. And California’s economy is booming, a reminder that someone knows what they’re doing “out there.”

What Trump does not seem to grasp is that public safety is not a game. His threat of pulling ICE from California sounds like he is willing to let residents suffer so he can win a political dispute. How can this be considered leadership, to potentially abet violence and promise to stand by and do nothing? Moreover, it would undercut recent efforts by ICE to step up immigration enforcement in the state.

There are some people who would likely be happy with Trump pulling ICE out of California. Immigrant communities would not have to live in terror. Fear of deportation would no longer deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes like domestic abuse and serving as witnesses. However, immigration agents play a vital role in combating human trafficking, violent gangs, and the drug trade. They are professionals serving their country – not pawns serving Trump, to be deployed or withdrawn at his whim.

How ironic that the president, whose administration seems to be obsessed with who is “illegal,” would make remarks that amount to a potential unlawful abuse of power. His threat to pull ICE agents out of California is petty, uninformed, and dangerous.  

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and contributor to and CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.