Acting Homeland Security chief says migrants will not be sent to sanctuary cities

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A woman waiting for a bus in Nogales, Mexico, is framed by a razor-wire-covered border wall separating it from Nogales, Ariz., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Washington (CNN) Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Sunday said that migrants detained along the southern US border will not be sent to sanctuary cities as President Donald Trump and some members of his administration have previously pushed for.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” McAleenan was asked to respond to the President having said on several occasions that he supported the idea, including last month during a rally in Wisconsin in which he claimed the process was already underway.

“As we’ve already talked about, we are balancing operationally the processing of people at the border. We have sent flights to California — California is a sanctuary state by law, so that’s technically correct,” McAleenan told host Margaret Brennan.

Customs and Border Protection has started flying some apprehended migrants to San Diego and another location in Texas for processing because the facilities along the border are at capacity. But pushed about whether DHS will send them specifically to sanctuary cities, McAleenan first dodged the question, saying, “Our transportation is based on operational necessity, capacity to process safely — that’s what we’re doing.”

Asked in a follow-up by Brennan whether the answer to the question was “no,” McAleenan answered, “Correct.”

Last week, talk of a possible government plan to send migrants who are in federal custody to South Florida sparked concern from Florida officials, including Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen, who said he and other local officials learned this week from US Customs and Border Protection of a plan to release hundreds of migrants weekly into the area.

“This is a humanitarian crisis. We will do everything possible to help these people,” Bogen said in a statement. “If the President will not provide us with financial assistance to house and feed these people, he will be creating a homeless encampment.”

On Saturday, acting CBP Commissioner John Sanders said in a statement that the agency “has no plans” to transport migrants to northern or coastal cities, including those in Florida as had initially been discussed.

McAleenan also said Sunday that migrants will not be flown to several other locations, specifically Detroit and Buffalo, stating the acting CBP commissioner made the decision Saturday not to send them there. McAleenan acknowledged Customs and Border Protection officials did earlier notify local authorities in those areas about the potential of migrants being sent to them.

When asked in a follow-up question whether those communities will no longer be expected to take in some, he responded, “Yeah. That’s right. But I think we should really stay focused on what’s actually happening on the border.”

McAleenan’s comments follow a Saturday phone call between Trump and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in which the President echoed that point, according to the governor’s spokeswoman, Helen Ferre.

“President Trump said he did not approve of such a plan and would not authorize it. Governor DeSantis was never notified by federal authorities that such a plan was in place,” Ferre told CNN.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment from CNN on the conversation, which was first reported by Politico.

CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and David Shortell contributed to this report.

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