WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday he is considering sending "Illegal
Immigrants" to Democratic strongholds — just hours after White House and Homeland Security
officials said the idea had been discussed but quickly rejected.
"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. He added, "The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open
Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!"
Trump’s tweets came as critics were criticizing news that the White House had at least twice considered a
plan to release detained immigrants into "sanctuary cities." Critics branded the plan,
supposedly rejected, as an effort to use migrants as pawns to go after political opponents.
"Sanctuary cities" are places where local authorities do not cooperate with Immigration and
Customs Enforcement officials, denying information or resources that would help ICE round up for
deportation people living in the country illegally.
They include New York City and San Francisco, home city of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on Friday
called the idea "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."
The idea of pressing immigration authorities to embrace the plan was discussed in November and then again
in February as the Trump administration struggled with a surge of migrants at the border, according to
people who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline private conversations. Department of Homeland
Security lawyers quickly rejected the proposal, according to the people, and it was dropped.
But not, apparently, by the president, who revived the idea in his tweets.
The plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is one of many ideas considered by an
increasingly frustrated White House in recent months as President Donald Trump has railed against the
growing number of Central American migrant families crossing the southern border. Officials say they are
running out of options, and have proposed and recycled numerous ideas that have never come to fruition.
Trump in recent weeks has discussed the idea of renewing his administration’s controversial family
separation policy. And he and aides are weighing forcing asylum-seeking families to choose between being
detained together as their cases make their way through the courts or sending their children to
There were at least two versions of the sanctuary city plan that were considered, according to one of the
people familiar with the effort. One would have moved people who had already been detailed and were
being held elsewhere to places with Democratic opponents of the president, while the other would have
transported migrants apprehended at the border directly to San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and
Revelation of the idea drew immediate condemnation on Friday from Pelosi and other Democrats.
The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, criticized the idea of using ICE or any other federal
agency "to penalize" or "for political reasons."
"That’s not the act of a democratic government," he said.
And Rep. Bennie Thompson, D- Mississippi, who chairs the House Homeland Security committee, said:
"The fact that this idea was even considered – not once but twice – serves as a reminder that the
Trump Administration’s reckless immigration agenda is not about keeping the country safe, but about
partisan politics and wantonly inflicting cruelty. "
A Homeland Security spokesperson played down the reported idea, saying it was "floated and rejected,
which ended any further discussion." A White House official echoed that language.
Former ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence, who on Friday was announced as the agency’s acting director,
denied that the White House pressured immigration officials to implement the idea.
"I was asked my opinion and provided it, and my advice was heeded," he said in a statement.
The Department of Health and Human Services said this week that it had started scouting vacant properties
that could be turned into facilities for holding migrant children in several cities, including Atlanta,
Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio.
Those facilities would be licensed by each state and likely take several months to be approved and
opened, separating them from the rapidly-expanding emergency shelter at Homestead, Florida, and the
now-closed tent facility at Tornillo, Texas.
The Defense Department has also been reviewing a number of military bases to find a location that can
house up to 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children as the U.S. braces for a surge of people crossing the
U.S.-Mexico border this spring. Health and Human Services submitted the request for space last month, as
Homeland Security leaders warned that tens of thousands of families were crossing the border each month.
HHS has traditionally been responsible for providing temporary shelter to unaccompanied migrant children
crossing the border.
ICE is tasked with arresting people living in the country illegally — including some who have been here
for decades. Under the Trump administration, ICE has significantly stepped up arrests, including of
people who have no U.S. criminal records.
In response, some cities have banished ICE from jails where agents could easily pick up immigration
violators. Police in New York, Baltimore and Seattle rarely, if ever, disclose information about when
suspected criminals in the U.S. illegally will be released from custody.
During his tenure at the Justice Department, Trump’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions went after
sanctuary cities, threatening to cut off their federal funding.
ICE arrested 32,977 people accused of crimes and 20,464 for immigration violations during the budget year
2018. There were 105,140 arrests of people with criminal convictions and 158,581 arrests overall. The
most frequent criminal conviction was for drunken driving, followed by drug and traffic offenses.
By comparison, in the last budget year of the Obama administration, there were 94,751 people arrested
with convictions, 6,267 arrests of those with pending charges and 9,086 on immigration violations. There
were 111,104 arrests overall.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant, Lisa Mascaro and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.