WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House considered going after political opponents by pushing U.S. immigration authorities to release detained immigrants into "sanctuary cities," three sources familiar with the idea confirmed Friday.
They told The Associated Press that President Donald Trump considered the proposal amid his ongoing battling Democrats over border wall funding.
Trump then tweeted on Friday morning, saying "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........The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!"
In response, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón issued this statement: “With immigrants being less likely to commit crimes than the U.S. born population, and with sanctuary jurisdictions being safer and more productive than non-sanctuary jurisdictions, the data damns this proposal as a politically motivated stunt that seeks to play politics with peoples’ lives. The fact that such a proposal is being peddled by the leader of the free world is an all-time low for American discourse, and it’s the clearest sign yet that the president fully intends to chart a path to reelection on the back of racist rhetoric and policies."
Oakland's Mayor Libby Schaaf also had strong words for the president. "An outrageous abuse of power — using human beings to settle political scores," she tweeted. "Our President wants to punish everyone; those who seek sanctuary in our country and those who provide it."
So-called sanctuary cities are locations where local authorities actively do not work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to help round up people living in the country illegally. Some places like New York City and California have laws preventing the cooperation.
The Washington Post, which broke the story, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco was among the targets.
"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, and in some cases, criminal."
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said the suggestion was "floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion." A White House official also said the idea was floated and rejected. That official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions, said when administration officials suggested it to Department of Homeland Security officials and others, those officials said it was a "no-go."
It was just one of many ideas tossed around by the White House as Trump expresses concern about an ever-increasing number of Central American migrant families crossing the Southern border. Officials are at the limits of what they can do, and often recycle ideas that never make it to fruition.
Trump and his aides discussed reinstating family separations, too, but Trump later said it wasn't happening. Another option was to give asylum-seeking families a choice on whether to be detained together as their cases progressed, or willingly send their children to a government run shelter.
ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence denied that the White House pressured immigration officials to implement the idea.
"As the acting deputy, I was not pressured by anyone at the White House on this issue," he said in a statement. "I was asked my opinion and provided it and my advice was heeded."
KTVU contributed to this report.