“We’re releasing them into sanctuary cities almost exclusively. You know, sanctuary cities want them. But once we started releasing them, they didn’t want them. So, you know, they want them, they talk — they talk a good game. But once you start saying: ‘Okay. Congratulations. Here are some.’ And they don’t want them. And they fight very hard. So, the whole sanctuary city thing is a big scam.”
First at a campaign rally and then in an interview, Trump claimed twice over the past week that undocumented immigrants were being released into sanctuary cities (and that the cities weren’t taking them).
If that rings a bell, it’s because the White House recently floated this proposal to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But ICE’s legal department “rejected the idea as inappropriate,” and that was the end of that.
The Washington Post reported April 11 that “White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of ‘sanctuary cities’ to retaliate against President Trump’s political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages.”
For instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) represents San Francisco, a sanctuary city. Democratic strongholds such as Chicago and New York City also have sanctuary status.
The definition of a sanctuary varies, but the term commonly stands for policies that prevent local law enforcement agencies from helping ICE deport undocumented immigrants. ICE has authority to enforce immigration laws on its own in every U.S. jurisdiction, regardless of sanctuary status, but the task is harder without local officials’ cooperation.
The White House first floated its plan to transport migrants to sanctuary jurisdictions in November, then floated it again in February. As The Post’s Rachael Bade and Nick Miroff reported:
The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE, with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns, and noting that “there are PR risks as well.”
After the White House pressed again in February, ICE’s legal department rejected the idea as inappropriate and rebuffed the administration.
A White House official and a spokesman for DHS sent nearly identical statements to The Post on Thursday, indicating that the proposal is no longer under consideration.
“This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion,” the White House statement said.
Further discussion did not end. The day after that White House statement was published, Trump contradicted it.
“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.
Three days later, Trump tweeted that immigrants detained along the border would be “given to Sanctuary Cities and States.” He said the move would be “subject to Homeland Security.”
The Department of Homeland Security has not announced that it is implementing Trump’s plan to deposit migrants in sanctuary cities. A DHS spokesman declined to comment for this fact check and referred us to the White House, which did not respond to our questions. We also sent questions to ICE and did not receive a response.
Which takes us back to Trump.
At a campaign rally in Green Bay and in a Fox Business interview, the president claimed that immigrants were being released into sanctuary cities “almost exclusively,” that “now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities,” that it was his “sick idea” and that the cities in question (none of which he named) were turning back migrants instead of receiving them.
We asked several of the biggest sanctuary jurisdictions whether the Trump administration had begun to release undocumented immigrants in their turf. “We have not seen any sort of uptick to warrant this claim,” said Matthew McGrath, a spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D). “But if we did, and as the mayor has indicated, we’d welcome it.” A spokesman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told us, “We have seen nothing to indicate such actions from the Trump administration, and we are certainly not turning anyone away.”
Perhaps one sanctuary city on Trump’s mind is Oakland, Calif. The president didn’t mention it at the rally or in the interview, but he has feuded with Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) in the past and criticized her again in an April 13 tweet: “So interesting to see the Mayor of Oakland and other Sanctuary Cities NOT WANT our currently ‘detained immigrants’ after release ...”
In fact, Schaaf said the opposite. “My job as a mayor is to welcome people,” Schaaf told NPR in an interview the same day as Trump’s tweet. “I don’t build walls. It’s our job to welcome everyone into our city, ensure their safety, ensure that their families can thrive. And that is my job no matter where those people came from or how they got there.” (There’s no evidence that the Trump administration has begun to release immigrants into Oakland.)
Trump says Democrats oppose his idea because they don’t want immigrants in their communities. But Democrats mentioned different reasons. As Schaaf put it: “This is about an outrageous abuse of power. The idea that you could use human beings, families as instruments of political payback to use public resources to exact retribution on your political enemies.” As a Pelosi spokeswoman put it, “Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”
U.S. immigration officials mostly release immigrants in Arizona and Texas, the two states where border apprehensions are highest. State law in both Arizona and Texas prevents local jurisdictions from adopting sanctuary-city policies.
The undocumented immigrants who get released — those with criminal records are ineligible — are mostly children, families and asylum-seekers. They often make their way to other states and cities on their own, including those with sanctuary policies. (However, Trump said that “we’re releasing them into sanctuary cities” and that “now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities,” implying government action.)
The Post previously obtained data from Annunciation House, a nonprofit shelter in El Paso, showing the nationality and U.S. destination of one group of 1,545 migrants. They headed for 42 states after being released by U.S. immigration officials, including many places that are not considered sanctuary cities, the data shows. “Many migrants went to the Southeast and Midwest, regions that were not major immigrant destinations a generation ago,” The Post reported.
Ruben Garcia, the founder and executive director of Annunciation House, told The Post that his shelter was at capacity and that he had asked ICE “about the possibility of the agency driving more families to Albuquerque, as well as cities as far away as Denver and Dallas, where churches and shelters have space for them.”
Albuquerque is a sanctuary city, but there’s no sign of officials there turning away migrants. In any case, Garcia was not asking ICE for a nationwide policy change, just a practical accommodation.
The Pinocchio Test
There’s no evidence that Trump’s plan to release undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities is being implemented.
We asked all the relevant Trump administration officials to confirm the president’s claims. The silence coming from DHS, ICE and White House staff is deafening.
Let’s not forget, the White House previously said of Trump’s plan: “This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.” ICE officials balked at and rejected the idea. As it stands, immigration officials mostly release immigrants in Arizona and Texas, where there are no sanctuary cities.
Trump made this claim twice in recent days, so it seems deliberate. He also claimed that sanctuary cities are turning back migrants, but the one example mentioned on his Twitter feed — Oakland — continues to welcome them.
The policy may not be real, but the Four Pinocchios are.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form