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Trump: Release Migrants in Sanctuary Cities
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump says he is strongly considering releasing "Illegal Immigrants" into sanctuary cities, just hours after White House and Homeland Security officials insisted the idea had been rejected as fast as it had been proposed.

"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 Friday. 

The reversal, which appeared to catch officials at the Department of Homeland Security off guard, came as critics were blasting Trump for the supposedly-rejected idea, accusing him of turning migrants into pawns to go after his political opponents. It comes as a surge of Central American migrant families are crossing the southern border and Trump looks looking for new ways to pressure congressional Democrats to change laws that he insists are making the problem worse.

It was not clear whether the president was joking, and a Homeland Security spokesman said in a statement: "At no time has the president indicated, asked, directed or pressured the acting secretary to do anything illegal. " The reported conversation came during the president's trip last week to Calexico, California, a day after he announced he was delaying his threat to close the border because Mexico appeared to be stepping up its enforcement efforts.

Before Trump's tweets on Friday, both the Department of Homeland Security and a White House official had insisted in nearly identical statements that the sanctuary-cities plan had been floated but then flatly rejected.

Asked about it by reporters, he said he was "strongly looking at" releasing migrant families into those communities.

"They're always saying they have open arms. Let's see if they have open arms," he said.

There were no indications, however, that officials were taking any steps to move forward with the idea or considered the president's words anything more than bluster.

"Sanctuary cities" is the term for 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."

ICE arrests people in the U.S. illegally and also manages migrants who present themselves at border crossings and ask for asylum.
The surge of migrant families at the border has been taxing the system, and ICE says it no longer has the resourced to handle immigrants processed by the Border Patrol. As a result, more than 125,000 people have been released as they await court hearings — a practice Trump has derided as "catch and release."

With immigrant processing and holding centers overwhelmed, the administration has already been busing people hundreds of miles inland and releasing them at Greyhound stations and churches in cities such as Albuquerque, San Antonio and Phoenix.

Transporting large groups of immigrants to distant cities would be even more expensive for an agency already strapped for cash. Flights chartered by ICE cost about $7,785 per flight hour, according to the agency, and require multiple staffers, including an in-flight medical professional. The agency also uses commercial flights but requires that migrants to pay for those.

At the same time, many "sanctuary" communities would likely welcome the immigrants in question. Some of these cities have robust networks of nonprofit legal groups that could help them strengthen their legal cases to stay.

The Department of Health and Human Services said this week 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.

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.

Democrats have said they will tackle immigration bills, possibly as soon as they return from their spring recess, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has indicated an interest.

Published 09:15 PM, Friday Apr. 12, 2019
Updated 07:41 AM, Sunday Apr. 14, 2019

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