President-elect Donald Trump plans to deport or imprison somewhere between 2 million and 3 million undocumented immigrants as soon as he takes office.
In an interview with CBS News that will air Sunday night, Trump said he would launch what could be the largest mass deportation effort in modern history, vowing to immediately deport a number of people comparable to the record-setting figure that President Barack Obama carried out over two terms in office.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said in the interview. “But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.”
In saying that 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records live in the U.S., Trump was repeating a claim he’d made earlier in the campaign that The Washington Post fact-checked and determined was inaccurate.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that around 820,000 undocumented immigrants have criminal records ― a figure that includes many people whose only conviction is crossing the border illegally. Under prosecutorial discretion guidelines in place since 2011, undocumented migrants with minor crimes are in some cases able to avoid deportation.
But a review by The Marshall Project of more than 300,000 recent deportations showed that the majority of deportees had no serious criminal record at all. More than 40 percent had no criminal conviction, and another 18.7 percent only had an immigration-related conviction. Less than 20 percent had a criminal conviction that involved or potentially involved violence.
After his initial round of deportations and efforts at border security, Trump said, his administration would assess its policy on the remaining undocumented immigrants residing here.
“After the border is secure and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that,” Trump said. “But before we make that determination ... it’s very important, we are going to secure our border.”
Trump’s comments appeared to contradict RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ claims last week that Trump would not call for mass deportation, despite the president-elect’s hard-line immigration stance since the day he launched his campaign referring to Mexican migrants in broad strokes as “rapists.”
“He’s not calling for mass deportation,” Priebus said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week. “He said, ‘No, only people who have committed crimes.’ And then only until all of that is taken care of will we look at what we are going to do next.”
It’s unclear whether Trump could deport or jail that many people that quickly with the resources at his disposal. Deportations are often contested in court. And the ebb and flow of apprehensions at the border at times exceeds the 34,000 beds the federal government reserves on a daily basis to detain migrants.
But his enthusiasm for removals suggests that deportations will likely rise when he takes office, after declining sharply last year. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 235,413 undocumented immigrants in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available ― a sharp decline from the Obama administration’s 2012 peak of 409,849 ICE removals.
“The U.S. Constitution will be a hedge against any plan President-elect Trump has when it comes to deportations,” Chris Newman, the legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement. Despite whatever expectations are held among the xenophobes within his base, it is a fact that core civil rights protections are owed to all people living in the United States, regardless of immigration status. Any effort to violate those rights will be met with with immediate litigation. Immigrants might not have been born in the US, but they are now tasked with defending the country’s constitutional values.”
This article has been updated to include a statement from Newman.
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