“Where’s Toni? Toni? Toni?” President Donald Trump asked Wednesday afternoon, after Mayor Toni Harp refused an invitation to the White House, on the basis of New Haven’s status as a sanctuary city.
Harp joined other top city leaders from across the county in boycotting a scheduled meeting with Trump on Jan. 24, after learning that the U.S. Department of Justice had sent letters to 23 sanctuary cities, states and counties — not including New Haven — to request greater compliance with the federal laws governing immigration enforcement. Harp, who was in Washington D.C. to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was invited to the 3 p.m. White House meeting, but declined to attend when she found out about the letters.
According to a transcript of the event released by the White House, Trump singled out Harp in his opening address to the crowd, noting her absence from the meeting.
“Toni Harp. Where’s Toni? Toni? Toni? Uh oh, can’t be a sanctuary city person,” Trump said. “My administration is committed to protecting innocent Americans, and the mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over law-abiding Americans.”
Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer confirmed that Harp did not attend the conference and that no Connecticut city received a letter from the Justice Department, in an interview with the News on Wednesday afternoon.
Harp said she was baffled that the Justice Department sent out the letters as mayors across the country assembled in Washington, D.C., in an interview with the New Haven Register on Wednesday.
“People who live in our community are citizens no matter where they came from, as long as they are law-abiding and most are,” Harp told the Register. “I’m not going to do anything that would undermine … where we are in our city.”
Trump later accused sanctuary cities of supporting gangs and cartels, as well as contributing to disproportionately high suicide rates. Trump said the Justice Department on Wednesday announced a “critical step” to hold accountable sanctuary cities that violate federal law.
The letters called for each jurisdiction to submit documents from local law enforcement so the Trump administration can determine whether police departments are evading federal law. If the requests go unanswered, the letters said, the Justice Department may use subpoena power to access the records.
On social media, a wide range of public officials, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, LAW ’73 D-Conn., lauded Harp’s decision to boycott the meeting.
“Where’s Toni? She’s standing up for our civil and human rights. President Trump calling you out is a badge of honor,” Blumenthal tweeted.
In a press release, Gov. Dannel Malloy said he is “proud” to stand with Harp, praising her for standing up for “the values that make Connecticut strong.” He said that “unlike this president,” she is a “brilliant and thoughtful leader.”
The U.S. Conference of Mayors President and Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu was quick to release a statement defending his and other mayors’ choice to boycott the meeting.
“When the president is prepared to engage in an honest conversation about the future of our shared constituencies, we will be honored to join him,” Landrieu said. “Until that time, mayors of both parties will work together to keep our cities safe, hold this administration accountable to its promises, and protect immigrant communities — with or without Washington’s help.”
Landrieu said that an “attack on mayors who lead welcoming cities” is an “attack on everyone in our conference.” He rebuked the Trump administration for threatening mayors and “demoniz[ing] immigrants.”
Although there was widespread support across the state for the mayor’s boycott and her stance on keeping New Haven a sanctuary city, Connecticut Republican State Chairman J.R. Romano questioned Harp’s decision to maintain the Elm City’s sanctuary status.
“There’s no question that a vast majority of immigrants are coming here for a better life,” Romano said. “The fundamental problem with sanctuary cities is you are seeing peoples’ lives being ruined by people who are not supposed to be there.”
Responding to the boycott in a Jan. 24 press briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Department of Justice’s job is to enforce the laws established by Congress. She said the White House cannot allow people to “pick and choose” which laws they want to follow.
“The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities. We support enforcing the law and following the law,” Sanders said. “And if mayors have a problem with that, they should talk to Congress, the people that pass the laws.”
Harp was first elected mayor in 2013.
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