White House urged ICE to release detainees in SF, other Democratic strongholds
San Francisco Chronicle
California immigrant rights advocates blasted a plan by the White House to transport and release detainees on the streets of sanctuary cities — specifically San Francisco, plus some small- and medium-size communities — as political payback.
The White House tried twice over the past six months to push federal immigration authorities into implementing the plan, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday that was based on interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages obtained by the Post.
In response to the story, the White House released a statement that the proposal “was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected.” Both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security implied that the proposal was no longer being considered.
“This was just another attempt to demonize and dehumanize immigrants as part of Trump’s hate-filled agenda,” said Jon Rodney, a spokesman for the California Immigrant Policy Center. “But people aren’t buying it. Sanctuary cities really are on the right side of history. It’s about upholding our values of compassion and common humanity.”
The Rev. Deborah Lee, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity in Oakland and an immigrant rights leader, said Thursday evening that a proposal to “use people as political pawns is really loathsome.”
“But anything that would support getting people out of immigration detention and back into communities and into livable and humane situations — we would actually encourage that,” Lee said. “We would welcome their release, and we would welcome them here.”
The plan focused on sending immigration detainees to Democratic fortresses including San Francisco, the home district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is one of President Trump’s most vocal opponents. Her office quickly struck back at the White House after the story was published online.
“The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne said in a statement. “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.”
San Francisco is one of the country’s oldest sanctuary cities, a label applied to communities where local law enforcement authorities are told not to aid federal immigration officials in most cases. There are now more than 500 sanctuary cities and counties in the United States.
But San Francisco’s policy in particular came under attack by Trump during his campaign for the presidency, and his administration has repeatedly criticized it.
According to the Post report, the White House first advanced the idea of sending detainees to sanctuary cities in November. At the time, Trump administration officials said the goal was to create more space in overcrowded detention centers, but according to emails, the White House also hoped to send a message to Democrats.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials balked at the plan, according to the report. When the Trump administration resurrected the proposal in February, ICE legal officials rejected it outright.
Erin Allday is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @erinallday
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