President Donald Trump wants to explore a twice-rejected proposal to send migrants to "sanctuary cities," but that is not the preferred solution to fix the straining immigration system, the White House said Sunday.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders said it was one of many options, though she hoped Congress would work with the president on a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
The Trump administration is dealing with an ever-increasing number of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, an influx that has pushed the immigration system to the breaking point.
Laws make it hard to quickly return Central Americans, and many of them spend years in the U.S. waiting for their immigration cases to play out. Others claim asylum and wait just as long, living and working in the U.S. as they wait.
"Sanctuary cities" are mostly left-leaning places such as New York City and San Francisco where laws prohibit local police and correction officers from working with immigration officials to help arrest and deport people living here illegally.
Trump seized on reports last week of the proposal that sought to send migrants already detained to Democratic locations or transport migrants that have just crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to sanctuary cities.
Sanders said the idea would be to spread out the number of migrants so the strain would not be on "one or two border communities."
"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. "Again, this is not the ideal situation."
Trump tweeted on Saturday evening that the U.S. had the "absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities."
But the plan had already been eschewed twice.
People with knowledge of the discussions say it was first brought to the Department of Homeland Security from White House staff in November, and was again discussed in February but was put down after DHS officials reviewed it and found it was too costly, a misuse of funds and would be too timely. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It actually could make it more difficult for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to arrest people facing deportation because sanctuary cities do not work with ICE.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University announced last week that an analysis found that immigrants in sanctuary cities are 20% less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.
Democrats criticized the White House proposal as a political stunt that used humans as pawns and would not work.
"Look, you can't threaten somebody with something they're not afraid of," said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, a candidate for president. "And we are not afraid of diversity in the state of Washington. We relish it. It is the basis of our economic and cultural success. We're built as a state of immigrants."
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., questioned the legality of the proposal.
"This is again his manufactured chaos that he's created over the last two years on the border," Thompson said of Trump, adding Democrats were more than willing to sit down and talk about immigration legislation.
But Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said sanctuary cities showed contempt for the law, though he didn't know whether there were any legal concerns with transporting migrants to the locales.
"I mean, maybe he's just saying this to make everybody crazy," he said of Trump.
Sanders appeared on ABC's "This Week" and "Fox News Sunday." Scott was on CNN's "State of the Union" and Inslee was on NBC's "Meet the Press." Thompson appeared on ABC.