WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump wants to explore a twice-rejected proposal to send migrants to "sanctuary cities," but that is not the preferred solution to fix the straining immigration system, the White House said Sunday.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was one of many options, though she hoped Congress would work with the president on a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
The Trump administration is dealing with an ever-increasing number of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, an influx that has pushed the immigration system to the breaking point, officials say.
Laws make it hard to quickly return Central Americans, and many of them spend years in the U.S. waiting for their immigration cases to play out. Others claim asylum and wait just as long, living and working in the U.S. as they wait.
"Sanctuary cities" include places such as New York City and San Francisco where laws prohibit local police and correction officers from working with immigration officials to help arrest and deport people living there illegally.
Trump seized on reports last week of the proposal that sought to send migrants already detained to Democratic strongholds or transport migrants who have just crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to sanctuary cities.
Sanders said the idea would be to spread out the number of migrants so the strain would not be on "one or two border communities."
"The president likes the idea and Democrats have said they want these individuals into their communities so let's see if it works and everybody gets a win out of it," Sanders said. "Again, this is not the ideal situation."
Sanders spoke on ABC's This Week and Fox News Sunday
In a Sunday appearance on NBC News' Meet the Press, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway accused an "unserious Congress" of not taking tougher action to stop migrants from crossing into the country.
"The Republicans failed to do their job when they were in charge, no doubt," she said. "And the Democrats now are failing to come together in the House."
Trump tweeted Saturday evening that the U.S. had the "absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities."
But the plan had already been eschewed twice.
People with knowledge of the discussions say it was first presented to the Department of Homeland Security by the White House staff in November, and was again discussed in February but was put down after Homeland Security officials reviewed it and found it was too costly, a misuse of funds and would be too timely. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It could make it more difficult for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to arrest people facing deportation because sanctuary cities do not work with the agency, statistics show.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University announced last week that an analysis found that migrants in sanctuary cities are 20 percent less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., meanwhile, said Sunday that he is planning to introduce a new immigration package after the Senate returns from recess, although he did not give an exact date.
The legislation "will deter people from Central America from continuing to come, change our asylum laws, make sure you have more than 20 days to deal with an unaccompanied minor and send people back to Central America," Graham said on Fox News Channel's Sunday Morning Futures.
The South Carolina lawmaker made clear that the White House and Republican leaders in the Senate were reaching out to their Democratic colleagues to get bipartisan support for the package.
"The administration is going around Congress talking to Democrats about what they want if we do change the laws, what they would like in return," Graham said. "I'm going to try to find a compromise here."
Democrats criticized the White House sanctuary city proposal as a political stunt that uses humans as pawns and will not work.
"Look, you can't threaten somebody with something they're not afraid of," Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, a candidate for president, said on Meet the Press. "And we are not afraid of diversity in the state of Washington. We relish it. It is the basis of our economic and cultural success. We're built as a state of immigrants."
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., questioned the legality of the proposal.
"This is again his manufactured chaos that he's created over the last two years on the border," Thompson said of Trump, adding that Democrats are more than willing to sit down and talk about immigration legislation.
"Before Donald Trump took office, we had a situation that was manageable -- we had spikes, but it also went down. But what we have now is a constant pushing of the system so that it doesn't work," Thompson said on ABC. "Rather than being punitive, the president has to step up and provide real leadership, which he's failed to do on immigration."
But Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaking on CNN's State of the Union, said sanctuary cities show contempt for the law, though he didn't know if there are any legal concerns with transporting migrants to the locales.
"I mean, maybe he's just saying this to make everybody crazy," he said of Trump.
In his Saturday tweets, Trump specifically singled out the Democratic mayor of Oakland, Calif., Libby Schaaf, who has criticized a proposed policy to relocate detained migrants to sanctuary cities as an "abuse of power and public resources."
Then the president claimed that she does not actually want the detained migrants to be released into her city. In fact, Schaaf's administration strengthened Oakland's sanctuary policy in 2018 and warned residents last year of an upcoming raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On Saturday night, she responded to Trump's attack with a clear message: "Oakland welcomes all."
Speaking Friday on CNN, Schaaf decried what she called Trump's "outrageous abuse of power and public resources."
"The idea that the administration thought in any way that it would be acceptable to use families and children, human beings, as political retribution against their enemies should infuriate every American regardless of political affiliation."
Information for this article was contributed by Colleen Long of The Associated Press; and by Felicia Sonmez, Mike DeBonis, David Nakamura, Stephanie McCrummen and Kayla Epstein of The Washington Post.
A Section on 04/15/2019
Print Headline: 'Sanctuary cities' idea seen as worth a look; Trump aide calls it an immigration option