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WH: Sending migrants to sanctuary cities remains an 'option on the table'

Democrats questioned the legality of the president's talk

Democrats questioned the legality of the president's talk of transporting migrants to sanctuary cities. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s call to place migrants seeking asylum in so-called sanctuary cities throughout the country — including New York City — remains “an option on the table,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Sunday.

Sanders, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said the idea floated publicly by Trump on Friday wouldn’t be the administration’s “first choice” to deal with the influx of migrants from Central and South America seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico. She called on congressional Democrats to address the growing numbers of migrants by supporting the president’s hard-line immigration agenda.

“We don’t want to put all of the burden on one or two border communities,” Sanders said of Trump’s proposal to transport migrants to other locales. “Democrats have stated time and time again ... they support sanctuary cities, so let’s spread out some of that burden and let’s put it in some of those other locations if that’s what they want to see happen and are refusing to actually help fix the problem.”

Sanders’ defense of the proposal came days after White House officials initially denied news reports that such a policy was in consideration. Trump on Friday contradicted those denials, declaring in a tweet: “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy — so this should make them very happy!”

Trump, in a late night flurry of tweets on Saturday, also doubled down on his proposal, taking aim at California, where multiple municipalities have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” by limiting their cooperation with immigration law enforcement agencies. New York City also has embraced the title of “sanctuary city,” enacting a series of laws under the de Blasio administration that bar immigration officials from schools and other city-owned properties without a subpoena.

“The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California, which is well known or its poor management & high taxes!"

Congressional Democrats have questioned the legality of the president’s plan amid news reports that Trump initially floated the idea as political retribution against rivals including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who represents San Francisco, a sanctuary city.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” he did not believe Trump’s plan was legal.

“This is again, his manufactured chaos that he has created over the last two years on the border,” Thompson said.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said Trump is more concerned with “preserving” immigration as an issue to rally his base leading up to the 2020 election.

“My understanding is it’s not legal,” Cardin said of the proposal to transport migrants. “There’s no budget for that purpose. This is clearly a political move for the president. He’s using immigrants as pawns in his political game of chess. He’s not really interested in a solution. He’s more interested in preserving a political issue for the 2020 election.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said Congress was “unserious” about finding solutions to address the growing number of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border.

Conway, speaking about lawmakers, said that “all the time that they spend reacting to every single Donald Trump tweet,” could be spent crafting legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

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