President Donald Trump declared on Thursday he was considering withdrawing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from California as punishment for what he claimed was a "lousy management job" in patrolling illegal immigration.
"You know what, I'm thinking about doing it," Trump said at a roundtable with state and local officials to address ideas to stop gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school massacre. His comments came after he decried the state of law enforcement in the Golden State.
"We're getting no help from the state of California. Frankly, if I pulled our people from California, you would have a crime nest like you've never seen in California. All I'd have to do is say 'ICE, Border Patrol, leave California alone,'" he said during a listening session at the White House.
"You would see crime like nobody has ever seen crime in this country. And yet we get no help from the state of California. They are doing a lousy management job," he went on to say. "They have the highest taxes in the nation. And they don't know what's happening out there. Frankly it's a disgrace."
But Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck sharply rebuffed that characterization, saying his department has been able to minimize the influence of MS-13, a Los Angeles-founded gang that Trump often brings up when discussing immigration enforcement, including at several points in his first State of the Union address.
"While it would be foolish to minimize the lethal brutality of street gangs and in particular MS-13 here in Los Angeles, we have seen a steady decline in gang membership and gang crime in the city," Beck said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
"We have made our biggest impact, by arresting and incarcerating individuals who engage in violent crime and not the general deportation of the residents they victimize," the police chief continued. "The Los Angeles Police Department has studied, refined, and enhanced our approach to gang crime for the better part of a century and our biggest successes have been through our ability to engage the public and earn their trust, so we can reduce the number of victims and quell the fear of crime in our most vulnerable neighborhoods."
Last year, more than 60 percent of homicides in Los Angeles were still classified as gang-related, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the newspaper also says gang members have retreated from street corners and city parks, thanks largely to LAPD's community policing efforts.
Chief Beck also told the Times MS-13 no longer sits among the city's top five most active gangs, something that was partially achieved by imprisoning perpetrators in the U.S. rather than deporting them back to their home country.
"That doesn't mean that we can't get better…it just means that we have been experiencing this on the front line for literally 100 years in the city of Los Angeles," Beck told the Times. "And because of that, we have developed some strategies that I think are very effective, and one of those strategies is not mass civil deportation."
It was not clear how serious Trump was about the proposal. His administration has stepped up enforcement of immigration laws in California as an effort to pressure sanctuary cities, which is a term for local jurisdictions who have some policy of non-cooperation or coordination with federal immigration authorities.
California is also a key border for the United States, making it unlike Border Patrol or Customs and Border Protection could pull out of the state.
The San Ysidro border crossing is the busiest land port of entry in the entire Western Hemisphere, let alone the United States, and the California border is a major focus of preventing drug smuggling into the US.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan said on Fox News earlier this year that California's policies would only increase ICE's presence.
"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 said.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump's statement.
KTLA's Erika Martin contributed to this report.