Donald Trump is privately fuming over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flying migrants from the Texas border to Martha’s Vineyard, telling confidants the potential 2024 rival stole “my idea” for weaponizing immigrants. Turns out, Trump was right — but his plans were more extreme than anything DeSantis has come up with to date.
In early 2019, three people familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone, the then-president workshopped a plan to bus migrants suspected of violent crime from the border to liberal metropolitan areas. The plan, two of the sources say Trump explicitly told staff, was to “punish” his political rivals in Democratic controlled areas.
“I was in the Oval Office for a meeting in March, 2019 in which [Trump] got more specific than just dump[ing] them in blue states,” says former Department of Homeland Security official Miles Taylor.
“He said, ‘I want you to get the worst of the worst’ — criminals, actual ‘murderers,’ and actual ‘rapists’ — who cross the [southern] border, and round them up. He did not want to expel them, which is what you’re supposed to do in those situations,” Taylor says. “He specifically said that he wanted us to put them on buses … to, and I quote, ‘destabilize’ those sanctuary cities.”
Taylor recounts the then-president listing Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, and New York City among the metropolitan areas Trump wanted his administration to target.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Taylor is the former administration official who wrote the famous Trump-bashing “Anonymous” op-ed in The New York Times. His account of Trump’s plan elaborates on a comment he made on CNN this week. Taylor is a persistent Trump critic, but even people still in good standing in Trumpworld recall the president proposing plans to target his political enemies with suspected violent migrants.
A former top Trump aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in part to preserve their standing with the former president, recalls Trump raising the proposal at a dinner circa early 2019.
“I don’t remember the [former] president mentioning ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers,’ but I do remember him saying we should load buses up with ‘MS-13,’” the source says, referencing the violent gang with roots in Los Angeles and El Salavador. Trump, the source says, wanted to take MS-13 members “crossing the border and send them to cities like San Francisco [where Nancy Pelosi lives, and also to]…New York.”
These ideas largely went nowhere, because administration lawyers and other officials could not stomach, nor legally justify, such actions.
Trump’s aides also noted at the time that bringing in violent people was the exact opposite of Trump’s stated goal of keeping “immigrant crime” out of the country. Trump launched his first presidential campaign with a speech claiming, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” He, along officials such as policy adviser Stephen Miller and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, worked for four years to convert that xenophobia into government action.
On the plans to bus allegedly violent migrants, staff in the White House and DHS generally predicted (or hoped) that the mercurial president, with the extremely limited attention span, would forget about it and move on.
On that day in March 2019 when he first heard Trump talk about his horrifying plan to “destabilize” these American cities, Taylor says he remembers the mood in the room being one of “total exasperation” from officials who were mostly content to “let Trump cry it out.” The then-president would be “spitting, screaming, repeating himself, and you would let him go through all of that,” Taylor says.
Despite never enacting his plan to sicc “the worst” foreign and violent criminals on the people living in blue states, Trump did talking about his more general migrant bussing plans in public.
And in the post-Trump years, Republican governors took up his mantle. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has now spent more than $12 million bussing migrants from Texas to democratic enclaves like New York and Washington D.C., and DeSantis has set aside an equivalent amount within Florida’s budget to transport migrants out of the state.
The programs however, have drawn legal and ethical scrutiny, including following this month’s attempt by DeSantis to troll the residents of Martha’s Vineyard by unceremoniously dumping fifty asylum seekers on the island resulted in allegations that the migrants had been lied to about the destination of the transport they were offered, and what resources would be available to them if they accepted the flights.
The migrant transportation programs — and the more grotesque iteration of them imagined by Trump — represent one of the central pillars guiding the GOP’s attitude toward immigration. The officials portray migrants as an undesirable, destabilizing force, rather than as people seeking sanctuary or opportunity after leaving places that provided neither. Under the GOP vision of migrants as an inherent threat, those who welcome them should be punished.