Sanctuary cities are local jurisdictions that refrain from cooperating with federal immigration authorities and detain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation.

Central American migrants turn themselves in to US Border Patrol as they seek asylum after illegally crossing the Rio Grande near Penitas, Texas, US. April 6, 2019.
Central American migrants turn themselves in to US Border Patrol as they seek asylum after illegally crossing the Rio Grande near Penitas, Texas, US. April 6, 2019. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he was considering sending illegal immigrants in the country to so-called sanctuary cities.

"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 wrote on Twitter.

'Sanctuary cities'

"Sanctuary cities" are places where local authorities do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, denying information or resources that would help ICE round up for deportation people living in the country illegally.

They include New York City and San Francisco, which is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hometown.

The Washington Post first reported on Thursday that the White House has been considering a plan for transporting immigrants in detention and releasing them into sanctuary cities that are Democratic strongholds.

In remarks to reporters on Friday, Pelosi said she was not aware of the newspaper report. 

But she added, "it's just another notion that is 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."

Pelosi was in Leesburg, Virginia, where House Democrats were wrapping up a three-day retreat.

On again, off again

Trump's tweets came as critics were criticising news that the White House had at least twice considered a plan to release detained immigrants into "sanctuary cities."

Critics branded the plan, supposedly rejected, as an effort to use migrants as pawns to go after political opponents.

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. 

US 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 is one of many ideas considered by an increasingly frustrated White House in recent months as 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 detained 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.

Source: Reuters