Trump appears to move forward with sanctuary cities plan as backlash intensifies

A U.S. Border Patrol agent loads detained migrants into a van at the border of the United States and Mexico on March 31 in El Paso, Texas. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Monday appeared to announce his administration will move forward with a plan to bus undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities, “subject” to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Those Illegal Immigrants who can no longer be legally held (Congress must fix the laws and loopholes) will be, subject to Homeland Security, given to Sanctuary Cities and States!” the president declared in a tweet.

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Trump’s plan to allow officials to transfer undocumented immigrants into cities that have limited their cooperation with federal immigration agencies was first reported in The Washington Post last week — though the Post reported the idea was last floated in February as retaliation against politicians in largely Democratic strongholds but was shot down by administration officials.

The White House and DHS denied the idea was ever seriously under consideration, but the president revived the idea just a day later, saying in a tweet that he was “strongly considering” the idea.

On Friday, he blamed a court settlement known as the Flores agreement that bars the U.S. from detaining migrant children for more than 20 days and has framed his proposal as calling the bluff of leaders in sanctuary cities. Over the weekend, he asserted he has the “absolute legal right” to move forward with his plan.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Sunday the administration was “looking to see if there are options that make” Trump’s proposal legally viable and described it as “an option on the table” among other immigration enforcement measures. She argued that sanctuary cities that say their arms are open to immigrants will help ease the burden of communities along the border swamped by a surge in migrants.

Democratic lawmakers and leaders of sanctuary cities quickly responded to Trump’s plan over the weekend, decrying the White House’s use of migrants as “pawns” and demonizing rhetoric, occasionally calling the idea a waste of resources but largely affirming they would welcome the immigrants.

The proposal comes amid a major leadership shake-up at DHS as Trump considers an extensive immigration crackdown. In the span of a few days last week, Trump pulled the nomination of his pick to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Deputy Secretary Claire Grady resigned, and the head of the Secret Service left the administration. Stephen Miller, an adviser to Trump and an immigration hard-liner, has pushed for more extensive changes at the agency and an even larger clamp down on immigration.

In that time, Trump has also threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea he later backed off of after widespread backlash over the potential economic effects. He has also reportedly sought to reinstate his administration’s controversial family separation policy, though he denied doing so. His administration has also considered targeting countries whose citizens most frequently overstay their visas in the U.S.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump revived the idea at least “in part” to distract from the impending release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings from the Russia investigation. Trump’s tweet Monday came moments after the Justice Department announced when the redacted version of the report would be made public.