In a pair of tweets, Trump accused Democrats of being “unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws” and suggested they should feel the consequences of what he has called the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities only," Trump wrote in a series of tweets. "The radical left always seems to have an open borders, open arms policy – so this should make them very happy!"
Trump’s comments breathed new life into the proposal, which could further rile lawmakers in Washington who say the president is going too far in his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
The Washington Post reported Thursday night that White House officials proposed the idea on at least two occasions as a way to retaliate against Democrats who opposed the president’s hardline immigration policies.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at first thought the proposal was not serious, but eventually conducted a review that determined it was inappropriate and could not be carried out, according to the Post.
The White House told the Post that the proposal is no longer being considered.
“This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion,” the White House said.
A spokesperson for DHS said in a virtually identical statement that the proposal had been rejected.
"This was a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion."
But Trump revived the idea later Friday, blaming a court settlement known as the Flores agreement that bars the U.S. for detaining migrant children for more than 20 days. Framing his proposal as calling the bluff of leaders in sanctuary cities, he posed the idea as a potential motivating factor to get Democrats to strike a deal on immigration reform.
“We might as well do what they always say they want,” he said at the White House. “We will bring the illegal — I call them the illegals, they came across the border illegally — we will bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it, whether it is a state or whatever it might be.”
Trump continued: “California certainly is always saying, we want more people, and they want more people in their sanctuary cities, we will give them more people. We can give them an unlimited supply. And let's see if they are so happy. They always say they have open arms. Let's see if they have open arms.”
Pelosi criticized the proposal, saying it demonizes migrants.
“The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne said in a statement to the Post. “Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”
Shortly before Trump tweeted, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted the proposal as “disrespectful” and “unworthy” of the presidency.
Pelosi told reporters at the House Democrats' policy retreat in Virginia that she did not know anything about the White House’s internal deliberations, but said even raising the idea is “disrespectful of the challenges that we face as a county, as a people, to address who we are: a nation of immigrants.”
The White House plan reportedly called for transporting migrants detained in immigration facilities to sanctuary cities in Democratic districts that do not assist federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws. Among the areas under consideration was Pelosi's liberal San Francisco district.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it was “very unfortunate” that the administration was weighing the move.
"That you could use ICE — or any other federal agency — to penalize or to visit retribution for political reasons, that's not the act of a democratic government," he said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The president has intensified his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in recent weeks and has grown increasingly frustrated by the spike in migrant families crossing the southern border.
He ousted Kirstjen Nielsen as Homeland Security secretary last Sunday and pushed out other top officials at DHS in an effort to push the department in a “tougher direction,” a goal shared by top White House immigration adviser Stephen Miller.
CNN reported Thursday that Trump personally urged Nielsen to begin releasing migrants in sanctuary cities, but she pushed back. DHS lawyers eventually told the White House the plan would violate the law and could cause liability issues while the migrants were in transit.
Trump has also repeatedly threatened to close down the U.S.-Mexico border, another point of friction with Nielsen, and a senior administration official recently said the government is exploring ways to make it more difficult for migrants crossing into the U.S. to seek asylum.
Those proposals came on the heels of Trump’s decision to trigger a 35-day government shutdown over Congress’s refusal to fund a border wall and his declaration of a national emergency to circumvent lawmakers and obtain funds to build it himself.
Trump on Friday reiterated his plans to send more troops to the southern border to assist Border Patrol and other federal agencies dealing with the influx of migrants.
“We’re going to put more troops on the border,” the president said.
Trump has long-sought to undermine sanctuary cities, which are predominantly run by Democrats, painting them as a threat to public safety.
“These outrageous sanctuary cities are grave threats to public safety and national security,” Trump said last December at a criminal justice event in Kansas City. “Each year, sanctuary cities release thousands of known criminal aliens from their custody and right back into the community. So they put them in, and they have them, and they let them go, and it drives you people a little bit crazy, doesn't it, huh?”
The president has highlighted the case of Kate Steinle, who was shot dead in 2015 in San Francisco by an immigrant living illegally in the U.S. The suspect was acquitted of homicide charges in 2017, and his attorney said the shooting death was accidental.
The administration previously threatened to withhold funding from sanctuary cities if they did not cooperate with federal immigration officers. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions put forward conditions that required sanctuary cities to give immigration officials access to their jails and notify ICE officials of the planned release of a detainee.
A federal judge later ruled Sessions's efforts to withhold grant funding were unconstitutional.
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