White House “floated” proposal to release immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities

A senior White House official tells CBS News that the Trump administration had “floated” a proposal to release immigrant detainees into so-called “sanctuary cities” as the White House eyes stronger and a more hard-lined approach to immigration policies. The Washington Post first reported that officials had proposed transporting migrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the last six months alone — both taking place at a time when the administration was pressed on its immigration standpoints.

The official confirmed to CBS News on Friday, “This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.”  Revelations of the proposal come as the Trump administration is looking to implement even more aggressive immigration policies after replacing top leaders at the Department of Homeland Security, including former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

The Post reported that the proposal was intended to act as payback against President Trump’s political foes in areas where undocumented immigrants, who might otherwise be deported, could be offered a safe harbor. There are currently over 140 sanctuary jurisdictions — cities and counties — across the U.S., including at least 37 cities — San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Miami and Los Angeles, among others.

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Another administration official called the suggestion a “non-story.” The proposed idea would help process the heavy influx of illegal immigration by releasing some to sanctuary cities because they were already open to taking them — not because of political reasons, according to the officials who spoke on background.

The Trump administration has actively tried to crack down on sanctuary cities across the country over the past few years. The president has condemned leaders in these cities as skirting immigration laws in order to harbor “dangerous criminals.”

In 2017, Mr. Trump signed an executive order that would withhold federal grant money from sanctuary cities. That order was later deemed unconstitutional by a U.S. appeals court. The administration later sued the state of California for what the Department of Justice viewed as interfering with federal immigration laws by acting as a sanctuary city.

The administration is now looking to change a handful of key immigration-related policies, even as the president continues his threats to shut down the border. Specifically, the White House intends to change rules to allow the government to detain migrant families for longer than the current 20-day limit imposed by what’s known as the Flores agreement, according to a senior administration official.

The White House also wants to make it more difficult for immigrants to be approved for asylum, the official said, claiming approval rates are too high.

CBS News’ Emily Tillett, Kathryn Watson, Katiana Krawchenko and Fin Gomez contributed to this report

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