POLITICS
05/19/2019 14:09 EDT

DHS Chief Denies Trump Claim That Migrants Are Being Sent To 'Sanctuary Cities'

"Our transportation is based on operational necessity," said Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan denied that his agency is relocating immigrants who illegally cross into the U.S. from Mexico to so-called sanctuary cities, as President Donald Trump claimed last month.

At a rally in Wisconsin on April 28, Trump stated proudly that it was his “sick idea” to send undocumented immigrants to jurisdictions that have publicly declared they will not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

“Now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities, thank you very much,” the president told the crowd. “They’re not too happy about it.”

But McAleenan, who heads the agency that houses the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, contradicted that claim on Sunday during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked about the alleged operation on Sunday, McAleenan told host Margaret Brennan that Trump was “technically” correct because DHS has sent some undocumented immigrants to California, which happens to be a sanctuary state by law.

“The other part is that 10 of the top 11 destinations for immigrants that are released in the U.S., they’re going to sanctuary cities because that’s a magnet,” he said. “They’re providing an incentive to come live in those areas.”

“But your agency transporting people to these cities ― is that going to happen?” Brennan asked McAleenan, a former CBP commissioner whom Trump appointed last month to lead DHS after ousting Kirstjen Nielsen.

McAleenan responded, “Our transportation is based on operational necessity, capacity to process safely. That’s what we’re doing.”

“So, no is the answer to the question?” Brennan asked.

“Correct,” he responded.

Trump has long railed against sanctuary cities and states, including New Jersey and California, that have passed laws to protect their undocumented immigrant communities. The president’s push to release detainees into these jurisdictions is part of an effort to retaliate against his political adversaries, The Washington Post reported last month.

The Democratic National Committee called Trump’s comments at the Wisconsin rally “disgusting” and condemned him for using immigrants “as pawns in his games of political retribution.”

The number of people illegally crossing the southern border has risen sharply in the past few months. U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended over 109,000 people at the border in April ― more than double the number of migrants detained during that month last year. A majority of the migrants apprehended were either families traveling together or unaccompanied kids.

More than half of the nearly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. live in 20 metropolitan areas, including New York City, Los Angeles and Houston.