In speech to mayors, Trump says sanctuary cities are the 'best friends of gangs and cartels'


Many cities across the U.S. identify as sanctuary cities, despite President Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds. Here’s a closer look at what that label means.

WASHINGTON — President Trump delivered a stern message on sanctuary cities to the nation’s mayors Wednesday, saying that cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials “are the best friends of gangs and cartels.”

Trump’s remarks came in a less-than-full East Room of the White House, where he spoke to mayors about the economy, infrastructure and the opioid crisis. But many of the 109 invited mayors boycotted the event over the Justice Department’s threat hours earlier to subpoena 23 cities it accuses of harboring undocumented immigrants accused of crimes.

“The mayors who choose to boycott this event put the needs of criminal aliens ahead of our law-abiding Americans,” Trump said. 

More: DOJ threatens ‘sanctuary cities’ with subpoenas, escalating Trump’s immigration enforcement campaign

The Justice Department’s latest escalation of the immigration debate came as the nation’s mayors were assembling for their annual meeting three blocks from the White House. 

“An attack on one of our great American cities, or one of our small cities, is an attack on all of us,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He said the Justice Department’s subpoena threat made the White House meeting “untenable.”

Landrieu said he personally would no longer attend, but wouldn’t stand in the way of other mayors. He said the Justice Department action had poisoned the well just as mayors came to Washington to work with the White House on an infrastructure plan.

“One thing we never do is invite people into a comfortable space, and then go outside and throw a bomb,” he said. “We would not invite someone over for lunch, and then excoriate them on the front porch. My mama taught me better than that.”

The White House said the administration’s position on sanctuary cities has been clear from the start. 

“We would love to be able to work with these mayors, particularly on infrastructure on other things, but we can allow people to decide what laws to follow,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama, suggested that Trump was intentionally using the contentious immigration issue to create a distraction.

“He didn’t want to have a conversation about infrastructure, because we would all see that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to his plan,” he said.

“The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities. We support enforcing the law and following the law. If mayors have a problem with that, they should talk to Congress.” 

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