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House chairmen demand WH documents on plan to release undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities

Washington(CNN) Three House committee chairmen are requesting documents related to the administration's proposal to release immigrants into so-called sanctuary cities in part to retaliate against Democrats in a letter sent to the White House and Department of Homeland Security.

"These reports are alarming. Not only does the administration lack the legal authority to transfer detainees in this manner, it is shocking that the President and senior Administration officials are even considering manipulating release decisions for purely political reasons," the letter from House Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler, Elijah Cummings and Bennie Thompson states.

The lawmakers request emails between White House officials and DHS officials, communication between DHS officials, along with documents, memorandum, and other materials from between November 1, 2018, and April 15.

They set a deadline for May 3.

President Donald Trump confirmed the administration was considering the proposal Friday, and White House officials continued to tout the idea over the weekend.

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"In California, the governor wants to have a lot of people coming in, refugees coming in, a lot of sanctuary cities, so we'll give them to the sanctuary cities maybe to take care of if it's that the way we want it," Trump said Friday.

"Look, this is an option on the table," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

"The President heard the idea, he likes it, so -- well, we're looking to see if there are options that make it possible and doing a full and thorough and extensive review," Sanders added.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who played a key role this month's ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, urged senior DHS officials to make the plan of releasing immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities a reality, a source familiar with the discussions told CNN. The plan finally died after Miller and other White House officials pushed it in February, according to the source.

Miller was angered that department lawyers refused to produce legal guidance that would make the plan viable, saying the proposal would likely be illegal.

Homeland Security officials believe that the legal standoff is one reason why Miller has pushed for the firing of John Mitnick, the general counsel for DHS, who is still with the department.

"Sanctuary city" is a broad term applied to jurisdictions that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions. Cities, counties and some states have a range of informal policies as well as laws that qualify as "sanctuary" positions.

Most of the policies center on not cooperating with federal law enforcement on immigration policies. Many of the largest cities in the country have forms of such policies.

Matt Albence, who recently assumed the role of acting ICE director, issued a statement following the report: "As the Acting Deputy, I was not pressured by anyone at the White House on this issue. I was asked my opinion and provided it and my advice was heeded. The email exchange is clear and suggesting that it indicates inappropriate pressure is inaccurate.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose district was among those considered by the White House to target, also denounced the proposal last week.

"The extent of this administration's cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated," 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."

CNN's Evan Perez contributed to this report.