WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump convened some of the nation's top law enforcement officials Tuesday to rail against so-called sanctuary cities as he continues his crackdown on jurisdictions that flout federal immigration laws.
He accused cities that fail to cooperate with immigration authorities of putting the nation at risk by releasing "thousands of criminal aliens" who should be deported.
"In many cases they are very bad actors. We have gang members, we have predators, rapists, killers — a lot of bad people," he said.
Trump's latest immigration salvos came as negotiators on Capitol Hill tried to hash out a government-wide spending bill that appears increasingly unlikely to include big money for the president's promised border wall.
Trump and his Justice Department have stepped up their pressure campaign against jurisdictions that resist federal immigration laws, threatening to deny them federal grant money. And earlier this month, the Justice Department sued California to try to overturn three of its immigration laws.
The tough talk came as hopes dimmed for an effort to strike a compromise that would protect young "Dreamer" immigrants from deportation in exchange for funding Trump's long-sought wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"I still think that's a long shot," No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota told reporters.
Democrats have pushed for a temporary extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump announced last year he was halting. DACA allowed immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and work legally under renewable permits. A federal court has forced the government to continue processing DACA renewals, but not new permits.
White House bargainers have been willing to go even further and offered a chance at citizenship for 1.8 million people covered or potentially qualified for that program. But the Republican asking price included $25 billion for Trump's wall, as well as other changes, and Democrats were unwilling to meet those demands.
"At this moment, I don't believe it will be in the bill," said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois.
Speaking at a Republican fundraiser Tuesday night, Trump blamed Democrats for failing to accept his deal, claiming they want to use the issue as "a political football" this election season.
"And guess what? I think it plays better for us than it does for them," he said.
Trump also said that Congress was working on legislation to strip some funding from sanctuary jurisdictions. But a bill by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who was in attendance, is being blocking by Democrats, and a version of it was defeated when the Senate debated immigration last month.
At the White House, Trump continued to rail against Democrats, claiming the party's priority "is to protect criminals, not to do what's right for our country."
"Sanctuary cities and states like California put innocent Americans at the mercy of hardened criminals, hardened murderers, in many cases," he said. "Yet House and Senate Democrats voted nearly unanimously in favor of sanctuary cities. Explain that."
Democrats, meanwhile, accuse the administration of terrorizing immigrant communities and indiscriminately apprehending immigrants living in the country illegally who haven't committed non-immigration crimes.
There is "a lack of appreciation by the leadership of the administration and the agency about what is going on in the streets, what is actually happening in communities," said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., after a meeting with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
During the round table, Trump listened intently as members of Congress and state law enforcement officials railed against sanctuary policies. At one point, Trump applauded Attorney Jeff General Sessions, whom he's criticized for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, saying: "The level of strength from the Justice Department on this issue and on other border issues has been fantastic, so we appreciate it very much."
The term "sanctuary cities" has no single or legal definition, and their number varies based on how they're defined. But generally the term refers to places that have enacted policies friendly to people living in the U.S. illegally. That includes limiting federal immigration authorities' access to jails and failing to notify agents before releasing inmates wanted on immigration violations.
Other jurisdictions have implemented policies such as prohibiting police from asking about immigration status during traffic stops.