On Thursday, White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert spoke to the White House press corps about the ongoing damage from Hurricane Harvey. During this time, he went out of his way to make sure that the American public knows that, even in the midst of a catastrophic natural disaster, the Trump administration is committed to targeting undocumented immigrants.
When asked whether the estimated 575,000 undocumented immigrants living in the Houston area should be eligible for long term federal recovery assistance, Bossert attempted to dodge the question by focusing on the short term (emphasis mine throughout):
In terms of immediate life saving: No individual human being should worry about their immigration status—unless they’ve committed a crime, on top of coming here illegally—when it comes to getting food, water, and shelter. The authorities won’t be conducting any routine swipes or searches inside those shelters. Those are shelters for food and water, and providing insulation against exposure. That will happen and we won’t go rounding people up when they show up there. We don’t want to discourage that.
Now, subsequently, our priority will be illegal immigrants that’ve committed crimes. They’re gonna be rounded up as they always are, and taken out of this country if we find them.
...aaaand there it is.
Bossert was later asked to actually answer whether or not undocumented immigrants would, in fact, be eligible for long term aid following the storm “once they leave the shelter”:
If you’re an immigrant who’s committed a crime, you’re gonna be removed. If you’re an immigrant that’s looking for assistance that’s eligible for citizens, it’s my understanding that you’re not eligible in that case. But I think that doesn’t mean we’re gonna let somebody starve or die of thirst or exposure.
I don’t think there’s too much of a problem there. I’m not sure where they were living before they got into the shelter. I’d be making some pretty gross suppositions at this point that I’m not prepared to answer. But, I understand the hypothetical you’re driving toward, I’m just not prepared to deal with it.
Because if there’s one thing people love hearing from their government officials, it’s “I’m not prepared to deal with it.”
When it was pointed out to Bossert that he works for an administration which treats all undocumented immigrants as having committed a crime (“It is,” Bossert agreed), he essentially admitted that, yes, members of the undocumented community whose lives and livelihoods may have been destroyed by the Texas floodwaters will be, essentially, screwed:
There’s no real wavering here. It’s pretty clear our position on immigration... I don’t think there’s gonna be a lot of benefits going out to illegal immigrants in terms of the American taxpayer.
But I will say that he’s also made the point that those that’ve come to the country and then committed crimes, have constituted the priority offense we need to focus on. And I believe that he also said that’s not a victimless crime. So I think that the focus on gangs and other things have everybody pretty well busy right now. And the focus on saving lives and providing food, water, and shelter have everybody pretty well busy right now.
Translation: As soon as we can, we’re gonna go right back to targeting undocumented immigrants for arrest and deportation.
I think what you’ll find that the good men and women of CBP and ICE are out there providing assistance not only to the men and women of Texas and Louisiana that are American citizens but also in the interim to people of any immigration status that need food, water, and shelter.
Gee, ain’t ICE grand?
If I could I’d like to leave it at that, because that’s the clear message I want to leave behind to someone who might otherwise... be discouraged from going in and finding something that might save their lives. So that’s the message today.
Incidentally, the other message of the day is that President Trump is planning to announce he will be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which has granted temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as young children. When asked later whether DACA recipients—people who are legally allowed to be here—could receive long term aid following Hurricane Harvey, Bossert answered simply: “The administration is still reviewing the policy.”