By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - President Donald Trump threatened to remove federal immigration and customs agents from California Thursday over the state's refusal to cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts.
"Frankly, if I wanted to pull our people from California, you would have a crime mess like you've never seen in California. All I'd have to do is to say 'ICE and Border Patrol, let California alone," Trump said during a meeting on school safety, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"It's a disgrace, the sanctuary city situation, the protection of these horrible criminals... that if we ever pulled our ICE out, if we ever said 'hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,' in two months they'd be begging for us to come back, they would be begging. And you know what? I'm thinking about doing it," he added.
California has refused to cooperate with Trump's immigration crackdown, making it the largest locality to do so.
It is unclear whether Trump's diatribe is rooted in reality or if he is just exaggerating. California is a major border state, abutting Mexico and much of the U.S. West Coast, casting doubt on the feasibility of Trump following through on his threat.
Later Thursday, the White House said "sanctuary cities", or localities that do not cooperate with federal law enforcement efforts, are a public safety threat that encourage further illegal immigration.
"I think the president was raising that concern and making a very valid point,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters.
In response to California officially becoming a sanctuary state earlier this year, ICE Director Tom Homan said the agency will increase its footprint in the state.
"There's no sanctuary from federal law enforcement. As a matter of fact, we're in the process now, I'm going to significantly increase our enforcement presence in California. We're already doing it," he told Fox News.