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Thousands of people take part in the "Free the People Immigration March,'' to protest actions taken by President Donald Trump and his administration, in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2017. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu) Thousands of people take part in the "Free the People Immigration March,'' to protest actions taken by President Donald Trump and his administration, in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2017. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Thousands of people take part in the "Free the People Immigration March,'' to protest actions taken by President Donald Trump and his administration, in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2017. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 23, 2018

Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim about people rioting over sanctuary cities

Down the stretch in the midterm elections, President Donald Trump has escalated his rhetoric over immigration. For instance, during an Oct. 20 rally in Elko, Nev., he criticized "sanctuary cities," a somewhat fuzzy term that refers to localities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities.

"I don't think we like sanctuary cities up here," Trump told the crowd in Nevada. "By the way, a lot of people in California don't want them, either. They're rioting now. They want to get out of their sanctuary cities."

Is it really the case that in California, "they're rioting now" over sanctuary cities?

We found no evidence of it.

The White House did not respond to a request for evidence for this article, and Trump himself sidestepped an opportunity to cite specific evidence during remarks to journalists boarding Marine One at the White House on Oct. 22:

Reporter: "Hey, Mr. President, you said Californians were rioting over the sanctuary cities.  Where?"

Trump: "You shouldn’t have — take a look. They want to get out of sanctuary cities. Many places in California want to get out of sanctuary cities."

Reporter: "But that's not rioting, sir, right?"

Trump: "Yeah, it is rioting in some cases."

Reporter: "Where are the riots, sir?"

Featured Fact-check

At that point in the media availability, Trump turned to an unrelated question.

It’s worth noting that there is no broad consensus on the question of whether sanctuary cities are good policy.

A June 2018 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of those surveyed favored "banning sanctuary cities," while 46 percent opposed a ban. And a March 2018 CBS News poll found that 48 percent favored leaving immigration enforcement policy up to the locality, compared to 47 percent who said localities should be forced to comply with federal authorities. (As we’ve written, the wording of poll questions can make a significant difference on how people answer these questions.)

And the battle has moved to the courts. In addition to stepping up efforts to get cities to cooperate with federal officials, the Trump administration sued California over its sanctuary law. The populous and historically Republican Orange County in suburban Los Angeles moved to join the lawsuit against the state.

However, the existence of discontent in some quarters doesn’t mean that riots are under way, or were recently.

We found nothing of the sort in Google searches, and officials from California who would be in a position to know said there was nothing to Trump’s assertion.

"Short answer: no," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for California’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown.

Jonathan Muñoz, a legislative assistant with the California Police Chiefs Association, agreed.

"The California Police Chiefs Association is unaware of any riots taking place as a result of the state’s sanctuary city policy," Muñoz said. "What we do know is that some cities are challenging the policy in court, but that’s as far as anyone has gone to my knowledge."

Our ruling

Trump said that in California, "they're rioting now" over sanctuary cities.

There is no evidence to support that assertion. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.

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PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Pants on Fire
In California, "they're rioting now" over sanctuary cities.
a rally in Elko, Nev.
Saturday, October 20, 2018

Our Sources

Donald Trump, remarks at a rally in Elko, Nev., Oct. 20, 2018

Donald Trump, remarks at a press availability at the White House, Oct. 22, 2018

Pollingreport.com, poll questions on immigration, accessed Oct. 22, 2018

Reuters, "California county joins Trump 'sanctuary city' lawsuit," March 27, 2018

PolitiFact, "Anatomy of a statistic: Do 80 percent of Americans oppose sanctuary cities?" Feb. 24, 2017

Email interview with Jonathan Muñoz, legislative assistant with the California Police Chiefs Association, Oct. 23, 2018

Email interview with Evan Westrup, spokesman for Jerry Brown, Oct. 23, 2018

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Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim about people rioting over sanctuary cities

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