SALT LAKE CITY — One Utah Latino community leader thought a plan the White House considered to release detained immigrants into sanctuary cities, particularly Democratic strongholds, wasn't real news.
"I wasn't even sure I was listening to an Onion story or something because it's just preposterous," said Richard Jaramillo, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza. "I don't think anyone is really taking it as a serious proposal."
The Onion is a satirical news outlet whose articles cover real and fictional current events.
The idea of pressing immigration authorities to embrace the plan — which critics called an effort to use migrants as pawns to go after political opponents — was first reported in the Washington Post.
"I think the administration has been using the immigrant and refugee community in their political agenda for quite a while," Jaramillo said. "We see that there's not a lot of concern for the humanity of these people."
The White House pitched the idea to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last November and again in February as the Trump administration struggled with a surge of migrants at the border, according to report.
The plan suggested both transporting migrants who were captured at the border and those being held in facilities to sanctuary cities where local officials don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Salt Lake City is not considered a sanctuary city.
Department of Homeland Security lawyers quickly rejected the proposal, and it was dropped, according to news reports.
President Donald Trump confirmed officials have talked about the idea in a tweet Friday, and acknowledged at least part of the plan is still on the table.
"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. … The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy — so this should make them very happy!" he wrote.
Jaramillo called it more "posturing" and "showmanship from the commander in chief" but not a viable policy or solution to immigration issues.
Transporting immigrants on buses or trains would "evoke a lot of imagery to Japanese internment," he said.
Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, said, "Human lives should not become pawns in partisan political games. It’s wrong."
"We need leaders who can sit down together and find bipartisan solutions to the serious issues at the border and agreement on reforms to fix our broken immigration system," he said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, didn't address Trump's proposal directly when asked for comment about it Friday.
"The only way we’re going to fully address the current illegal immigration crisis is by the president and leaders of both parties putting politics aside and working on a legislative solution," he said.
Romney said a long-term fix must secure the border, institute mandatory e-verify, update asylum and trafficking laws to "stem the ballooning abuse by immigrants from Central America."
"We also need to address the problem of sanctuary cities, which put public safety at risk by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement," he said.
Sen. Mike Lee, who has traveled to the border and proposed solutions to the issue, declined to weigh on the president's idea.
Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, said it's "very concerning" to see the White House consider the plan, though not surprising.
"It really looks like the administration is willing to play with people's lives to score political points," he said.
Families being held at the border are already going through a difficult process and for them to be dropped off wherever the Trump administration wants is "incredibly inappropriate and really dehumanizing," Garza said.
Such an idea goes against not only Utah values but American values, he said.86 comments on this story
At least two versions the plan were considered. One would have sent people already in detention and being held elsewhere to places with Democratic opponents of the president, while the other would have transported migrants stopped at the border directly to San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and other cities, the Associated Press reported.
ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence 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.