White House proposed releasing immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities, targeting political foes
White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against President Trump’s political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages reviewed by The Washington Post.
Trump administration officials have proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the past six months — once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S. southern border, and again in February, amid a standoff with Democrats over funding for Trump’s border wall.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco was among those the White House wanted to target, according to DHS officials. The administration also considered releasing detainees in other Democratic strongholds.
White House officials first broached the plan in a Nov. 16 email, asking officials at several agencies whether members of the caravan could be arrested at the border and then bused “to small- and mid-sized sanctuary cities,” places where local authorities have refused to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation.
The White House told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the plan was intended to alleviate a shortage of detention space but also served to send a message to Democrats. The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE, with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns, and noting that “there are PR risks as well.”
After the White House pressed again in February, ICE’s legal department rejected the idea as inappropriate and rebuffed the administration.
A White House official and a spokesman for DHS sent nearly identical statements to The Post on Thursday, indicating that the proposal is no longer under consideration.
“This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion,” the White House statement said.
Pelosi’s office blasted the plan.
“The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” said Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne. “Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”
President Trump has made immigration a central aspect of his administration, and he has grown increasingly frustrated at the influx of migrants from Central America. He often casts them as killers and criminals who threaten U.S. security, pointing to cases in which immigrants have killed U.S. citizens — including a notable case on a San Francisco pier in 2015 . And he has railed against liberal sanctuary-city policies, saying they endanger Americans.
“These outrageous sanctuary cities are grave threats to public safety and national security,” Trump said in a speech to the Safe Neighborhoods Conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 7, less than a month after the White House asked ICE about moving detainees to such cities. “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?”
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