Columns

Boston Mayor: 'Deep Down' Trump is 'Very Pro-Immigrant'

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh marches in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston on March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

WASHINGTON – Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told PJM that he thinks President Trump is “very pro-immigrant” and supportive of DREAMers “deep down inside of him” but that he’s “trying to placate his base” with tough rhetoric on illegal immigration.

Walsh was asked for his reaction to Trump offering a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DREAMers, which includes the roughly 800,000 current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries, as part of negotiations with Democrats over the federal budget. The short-term budget Congress recently passed expires Thursday.

“I think there’s 800,000 in DACA. I don’t know enough about it. I mean, I honestly don’t think President Trump is against DACA. I don’t think he is, so I think he understands and realizes the importance of DACA. I think he understands and realizes the importance of the immigrants that are here working in our workforce; they’re in our schools, they’re fighting in our military,” Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, said during an interview at the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting.

“I think he understands the importance of that. And I actually don’t think President Trump is against immigrants either. I think he says it, but I don’t think he is. I think he’s playing to his base and I think really deep down inside of him I don’t think he’s against immigrants at all. I think he’s supportive of immigrants,” he added.

Walsh was asked if he thinks Trump will work with Democrats to offer a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants beyond DACA recipients and DREAMers.

“I don’t know – we’ll see what happens. I mean, I think if his base confronts him on it and they don’t want it he might buckle, but I think I honestly don’t think all this talk of immigration, deep inside of me, I don’t feel he thinks that way. I think he’s very pro-immigrant,” he said. “I think he made that statement a couple times during the campaign. But I think he’s trying to placate his base because he doesn’t want to disappoint his base. So we’ll see what happens.”

PJM asked Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) if he would support protections for only the 800,000 current DACA beneficiaries as opposed to expanding legal status further. He replied that the issue is negotiable and all part of the negotiations with the White House.

“What are you going to be pushing for the in the negotiations?” PJM asked Flake.

“Those are part of the negotiations,” the senator responded. “I mean, obviously the smallest would be the current DACA population. We all know that there are people eligible who aren’t in it and that will be part of the negotiations. If more is given there, then there will be more on the other side in terms of border security and those things. It’s part of the negotiations.”

Walsh slammed the Department of Justice for threatening to press charges against local officials who do not always cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to their sanctuary city status.

“The Department of Justice is reviewing what avenues might be available,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently said. “The context of this is of course not only putting my ICE officers at risk, but also finding an efficient and effective way to enforce our immigration laws.”

In reaction to DOJ’s threat, Walsh said, “I don’t think they have any grounds to do that. I think it’s a mistake.”

Walsh recommended the White House “learn to work collaboratively with the mayors” on issues such as infrastructure.

“I think there’s a lot of good common ground on transportation and infrastructure, on opioids and addiction,” he said. “I think what the White House should be doing with them is trying to find common ground and not for – every time it seems they want a distraction they talk about sanctuary cities. I think it’s unfortunate. There are a lot of Republican mayors in this conference who support immigrants, and what we are talking about now in this conference is how to more American forward, not how to move us backwards.”

The White House and Republican members of Congress have expressed concern that some illegal immigrants with criminal records are not being reported to ICE and held for transfer into ICE custody. Walsh was asked if that is what happens in Boston.

“No, and it doesn’t happen in their districts, either, so I don’t know what they are talking about,” the mayor replied. “America is a country that was founded by immigrants. We’re the greatest country in the world. We’ve spent the last 12 months, 13 months, talking about taking healthcare away from people, talking about undocumented immigrants and immigrants. DACA has nothing to do with that argument. And we’re talking about a tax package that shifted the burden, potentially, we’ll see as it plays out, from the rich to the poor.”

“We have not been talking about infrastructure. Congressmen, Republican or Democrat, their job is to move our country forward. My advice to them is to do your job,” he added. “Pass legislation that’s good for the country. Work in a bipartisan way – there are partisan issues, don’t get me wrong. There are things that Republicans will vote for and Democrats will vote for. OK, that’s fine, but there are plenty of issues that are nonpartisan that they could work together on.”

Walsh continued, “I think maybe they should go spend some time with their constituencies and ask them what they’re concerned about. I think they’re concerned about the roads and bridges in their district falling down and crumbling. They are concerned about not having enough money for education. They’re concerned about not having enough money for housing. They’re concerned about not having enough money to put food on the table. That’s their main purpose because our country is the greatest country in the world, so go back to that.”