WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Friday that he was open to releasing migrants detained at the border into mostly Democratic “sanctuary cities,” suggesting that the idea should make liberals “very happy” because of their immigration policies.
Mr. Trump’s comments came a day after his administration said the policy proposal was never seriously considered. But after the president’s Twitter posts on Friday, a White House spokesman said Democrats should work with the administration to welcome migrants into their districts.
“Democrats say we must have open borders and that illegal immigrants have a right to be in this country at all costs,” the spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said, adding, “so they should be working with the administration to find the best ways to transport those illegal aliens that are already set for release, into communities in their districts and states.”
Democratic lawmakers do not want “open borders,” as the president has suggested. They favor improving border security, but they do not support many of Mr. Trump’s hard-line immigration policy proposals, such as building a wall along the southwestern border.
Last year, Trump administration officials had floated the idea of transporting migrants to sanctuary cities, which do not strictly adhere to federal immigration laws, as a way to address the influx of migrants crossing the border with Mexico. One of the highest-profile sanctuary cities is San Francisco, home to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is one of the president’s top political rivals and a thorn in his efforts to change American immigration laws. The White House raised the proposal again in February, suggesting it could punish Democrats for rejecting budget requests for border security.
Ms. Pelosi’s office condemned the Trump administration for the idea, which the Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday was ultimately rejected.
But Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts on Friday indicated it was not off the table, and the president appeared to revel in the Democratic outrage, saying, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy — so this should make them very happy!”
Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, a state with several sanctuary cities, criticized the president’s proposal.
“Trump’s plan to release migrants into ‘enemy’ cities as if they are some kind of contagion is reprehensible,” Mr. Markey wrote in a Twitter post. “Trump is obsessed with the border and sanctuary cities because he only wins by dividing people.”
There has been an influx of migrant families crossing the southern border into the United States, exceeding the staffing and resources available for immigration enforcement. And with a shortage of space in shelters and detention centers, immigration officials have been releasing migrants into the country as they wait to appear before an immigration court. Those courts are so backlogged with cases that it can be months or years before the migrants are called to appear before a judge.
A top immigration official at homeland security pushed back last year against the proposal to release migrants into sanctuary cities, and said it would create “an unnecessary operational burden” on Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Currently, these migrants are released into border towns. Transporting them to sanctuary cities, which are scattered across the country — with some as far away as Massachusetts and Vermont — would come at a great expense.
Typically, reallocating homeland security funds intended for a specific purpose would require approval from House and Senate appropriators.
Some immigration advocates saw Mr. Trump’s proposal as an attempt to stoke racial tensions across the country.
George Gascón, the district attorney for San Francisco, said the proposal was “the clearest sign yet that the president fully intends to chart a path to re-election on the back of racist rhetoric and policies intended to divide us.”
Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, formerly the National Council of La Raza, called the proposal “reprehensible.”
“It seems that not only is President Trump attempting to utilize human beings, who have already experienced a traumatic situation, as tools to get back at political foes, but as a vehicle to further divide communities by stoking racial tensions,” she said in a statement.
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