SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — President Donald Trump’s threat to dump illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities like San Francisco and Oakland triggered an angry response from national, state and Bay Area leaders Friday.
The Washington Post first reported about the plan late Thursday, and the White House official told CBS News on Friday, “This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.”READ MORE: Study Shows Wildfire Smoke Much More Harmful Than Auto Pollution
However by Friday afternoon, the president announced otherwise.
“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.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom called the threat “a sideshow.”
“This is political theater. This is a sideshow. It’s demeaning, it’s demoralizing and it’s par for the course,” he said. “It’s Friday and I can’t wait for the weekend.”
“To use immigrants as pawns,” Newsom continued. ‘To put them in difficult and trying circumstances as political theater shows how low a human being can go. And this human being happens to be sadly and tragically the president of the United States. ”
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, called the threat a “warped game.”
“The extent of this Administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” said Ashley Etienne, a Pelosi spokeswoman. “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.”
“The American people have resoundingly rejected this Administration’s toxic anti-immigrant policies, and Democrats will continue to advance immigration policies that keep us safe and honor our values.”
Pelosi 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.”
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón called the Trump threat a political stunt.
“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,” he said in prepared statement. “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 intended to divide us.”
Meanwhile, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin called on Trump to seek a bi-partisan immigration solution.
“I am shocked but not surprised that once again this President is playing a cynical game with people’s lives in order to score political points,’ Arreguin said in a news release. “To use immigrants as pawns on a political chessboard is outrageous and unethical. Rather than supporting a real pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants in this country, he is fanning the flames of division.’
“I call on our President to stop playing politics and work in a bi-partisan fashion to fix our broken immigration system.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf Comments on Trump’s dumping threat
San Francisco Mayor London was proud her city was Sanctuary City.READ MORE: COVID: E. Bay Teachers Union At Odds With District Plan To Get Students Back On Campus
“We are proud to be a Sanctuary City and to continue to put forward proposals to support our immigrant communities,” she said. “Every time we talk about the President’s latest tweet is time that we’re not talking about the millions of people in this country who are falling behind. We aren’t talking about a path to citizenship for the over 10 million undocumented immigrants in our country.”
The idea of pressing immigration authorities to embrace the plan was discussed in November and then again in February as the Trump administration struggled with a surge of migrants at the border, according to people who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline private conversations. Department of Homeland Security lawyers quickly rejected the proposal, according to the people, and it was dropped.
But not, apparently, by the president, who revived the idea in his tweets.
The plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is one of many ideas considered by an increasingly frustrated White House in recent months as President Donald Trump has railed against the growing number of Central American migrant families crossing the southern border. Officials say they are running out of options, and have proposed and recycled numerous ideas that have never come to fruition. Trump in recent weeks has discussed the idea of renewing his administration’s controversial family separation policy. And he and aides are weighing forcing asylum-seeking families to choose between being detained together as their cases make their way through the courts or sending their children to government-run shelters.
There were at least two versions of the sanctuary city plan that were considered, according to one of the people familiar with the effort. One would have moved people who had already been detailed and were being held elsewhere to places with Democratic opponents of the president, while the other would have transported migrants apprehended at the border directly to San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and other spots.
Revelation of the idea drew immediate condemnation on Friday from Pelosi and other Democrats.
The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, criticized the idea of using ICE or any other federal agency “to penalize” or “for political reasons.”
“That’s not the act of a democratic government,” he said.
And Rep. Bennie Thompson, D- Mississippi, who chairs the House Homeland Security committee, said: “The fact that this idea was even considered – not once but twice – serves as a reminder that the Trump Administration’s reckless immigration agenda is not about keeping the country safe, but about partisan politics and wantonly inflicting cruelty. ”
A Homeland Security spokesperson played down the reported idea, saying it was “floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.” A White House official echoed that language.
Former ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence, who on Friday was announced as the agency’s acting director, denied that the White House pressured immigration officials to implement the idea.
“I was asked my opinion and provided it, and my advice was heeded,” he said in a statement.
The Department of Health and Human Services said this week that 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. Health and Human Services submitted the request for space last month, as Homeland Security leaders warned that tens of thousands of families were crossing the border each month. HHS has traditionally been responsible for providing temporary shelter to unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border.
ICE is tasked with arresting people living in the country illegally — including some who have been here for decades. 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.
During his tenure at the Justice Department, Trump’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions went after sanctuary cities, threatening to cut off their federal funding.
ICE arrested 32,977 people accused of crimes and 20,464 for immigration violations during the budget year 2018. There were 105,140 arrests of people with criminal convictions and 158,581 arrests overall. The most frequent criminal conviction was for drunken driving, followed by drug and traffic offenses.
By comparison, in the last budget year of the Obama administration, there were 94,751 people arrested with convictions, 6,267 arrests of those with pending charges and 9,086 on immigration violations. There were 111,104 arrests overall.MORE NEWS: Woman Arrested For Anti-Asian Attacks In Mountain View
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.