WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he’s “giving strong consideration” to placing detained immigrants in “sanctuary cities” despite his administration’s statement the day before that the policy had been rejected.
Trump aimed a pair of tweets at Democrats — blasting them for refusing to change immigration laws — as he confirmed the White House had proposed the relocation policy that federal immigration officials deemed inappropriate.
“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 tweeted, referring to a Washington Post article.
Accusing Democrats of having an “Open Borders, Open Arms policy,” Trump tweaked them by saying, “this should make them very happy!”
Later at an unrelated White House event, Trump said Democrats should agree to pass stricter asylum and other immigration laws to deter the asylum-seeking migrants — "I call them illegals," Trump said.
"California certainly is always saying, 'Oh, we want more people' … in their sanctuary cities," Trump said. "We can give them an unlimited supply. And let's see if they're so happy."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose home city of San Francisco was included on the list of sanctuary cities that refuse to turn over unauthorized immigrants for deportation, criticized Trump for trying to use migrants as a form of political retribution.
"It's just another notion that is unworthy of the presidency of the United States and disrespectful of the challenges that we face as a country, as a people, to address who we are, a nation of immigrants," Pelosi told reporters at a House Democratic conference in Leesburg, Virginia.
“The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” said Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne in a statement earlier. “Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”
One version of the proposal would move migrants already in ICE detention to Democrats’ districts and the other would bus migrants apprehended at the border to sanctuary cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, the Post reported.
Trump on Friday contradicted his own administration’s statements on the policy — both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security issued statements to the Post before Friday that said the proposal had been abandoned.
“This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion,” the White House statement said.
As a caravan of migrants from Central America headed to the U.S. border in November, the White House sent a Nov. 16 email to DHS immigration and border patrol officials proposing a policy in response the Democrats’ refusal to increase funding for migrant detention facilities.
“The idea has been raised by 1-2 principals that, if we are unable to build sufficient temporary housing, that caravan members be bussed to small- and mid-sized sanctuary cities,” the White House email. “There is NOT a White House decision on this.”
An ICE official said the proposal “would create an unnecessary operational burden,” would not be a “justified expenditure” when the migrants who entered the United States illegally could “be released on the spot” and could be a “liability should there be an accident along the way.”
The White House pushed the idea again during the budget standoff in mid-February following the partisan 35-day government shutdown over Trump’s border-wall funding request, officials told the Post.
“It was retaliation, to show them, ‘Your lack of cooperation has impacts,’ ” said a DHS official, the Post reported. “I think they thought it would put pressure on those communities to understand, I guess, a different perspective on why you need more immigration money for detention beds.”
Trump has pushed what he called "tougher" immigration policies as the number of ICE immigrant detainees has approached a record high 50,000 in recent months and unauthorized migration is at a 12-year high.
The president has declared a national emergency at the southern border to tap military construction funds to build a wall to stop the flow of migrants.
Democrats argue other methods of border security work better and say the emergency at the border is a humanitarian crisis as people flee violence and oppression in their Central American countries.