President Trumpsaid Friday his administration is “giving strong considerations” to a controversial plan that would release migrants into so-called sanctuary cities, even though officials said the idea was never seriously considered.
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.
“We can give them an unlimited supply [of migrants] and let’s see if they’re so happy,” Trump said later Friday at a White House event where he doubled down on the idea. “They say ‘we have open arms.’ They’re always saying they have open arms. Let’s see if they have open arms.”
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 Postreported Thursday nightthat 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 told The Hill 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."
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 LeaderSteny 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 oustedKirstjen Nielsenas 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 Thursdaythat 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 governmentis exploring waysto 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 GeneralJeff Sessionsput 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 judgelater ruledSessions's efforts to withhold grant funding were unconstitutional.