National Politics

White House says moving migrants to sanctuary cities under review

President Donald Trump is serious about relocating migrants to sanctuary cities, and while it's not the administration's first choice, it's being reviewed and would help relieve the burden of migrants flooding border cities, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

"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 on ABC's "This Week," one of two appearances on Sunday political talk shows.

When a plan to bus detainees to "sanctuary cities" was reported on Thursday by The Washington Post, it was cast as a way to retaliate against Trump's political enemies. The White House and the Department of Homeland Security said at the time that the proposal had been rejected and was no longer under consideration.

That changed on Friday, when Trump said he was considering releasing migrants apprehended at the U.S. southern border into sanctuary cities, the municipalities that prevent their police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities and are mostly Democratic.

The president elaborated on the possible move later Friday during a White House event, saying predominantly Democratic cities and states, such as California, that have advocated for undocumented immigrants should take them.

"We'll bring them to the sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it," Trump said. "We can give them an unlimited supply. Let's see how happy they are."

Trump returned to the idea in a series of tweets on Saturday night, including one that asserted "the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities."

Sanders said because congressional Democrats are not helping address the influx of migrants at the border, the administration has no choice but to consider the relocation. It would also spread out the burden because "we don't want to put all of the burden on one or two border communities," Sanders said.

"That's not our first choice, probably not even our second or third choice, but we have to look at all options as long as Democrats refuse to do their jobs and fix the problem," she said.

In a separate interview on "Fox News Sunday," Sanders brushed aside the legal questions surrounding moving migrants. But Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he doesn't see any way to do it legally. He blamed Trump for creating a crisis from what was a manageable problem before took office.

"This is again his manufactured chaos that he's created over the last two years on the border," Thompson said on ABC.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said on "Fox News Sunday" that the immigration plan was not legal.

Sanders said while the idea was initially brought up at the staff level and determined at that time to be difficult logistically, it's now being explored among other options because Trump likes it.

Trump purged U.S. immigration leadership last week, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary. He's seeking to toughen his policies and stanch illegal crossings of the border with Mexico, a signature campaign pledge. But Senate Republicans are alarmed by the bloodletting within Homeland Security as well as the absence of any clear strategy to regain control of the border.

If the president were seeking to solve the problem, he wouldn't be trying to divide Americans with his proposals, said Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Democratic presidential candidate.

"He's trying to pit Americans against each other and make us less safe," Booker said in an interview with CBS News provided by the network. "He is injecting fear into our country."

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway predicted on Sunday that the 2020 election would hinge on immigration rather than health care, climate policies or other issues. Whichever candidate stands out with an immigration plan "will prevail," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(Niquette reported from Columbus, Levin from Washington. Jordan Yadoo and Ben Brody contributed to this report.)