What if the Next President is Donald Trump?

immigration protest  los...
immigration protest los...

President Trump? Sounds like a nightmare. Millions of undocumented immigrants will be forcibly deported, tearing apart families and causing untold pain and suffering.

It's not going to happen. And not just because, as Univision's Jorge Ramos pointed out, it will be impossible logistically to deport millions of people.

During that infamous news conference, everyone knows that Trump at first kicked Ramos out and told him to "Go back to Univision" -- which many Hispanic viewers interpreted as "Go back to Mexico."

But few commentators took notice of the five-minute exchange after Ramos was invited back to ask questions.

Trump made it clear that his first priority would be the deportation of gang members and other criminals. He also said that while he would build a wall on the southern border, it would have "a big beautiful door" to let the good people in. He also said he would seek a humanitarian solution to the millions of law-abiding unauthorized immigrants in the United States.

As an immigration attorney, I am torn between my compassion for unauthorized immigrants and the sometimes unforgiving rule of law. The vast majority of newly arrived unauthorized immigrants -- especially from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- are fleeing country-wide gang warfare, extortion, domestic violence, abject poverty and the highest homicide rates in the world. Many others are seeking to be reunited with their families in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security does in fact have reasonable and fair procedures in place to protect recent entrants who express fear of returning to their homeland.

Clearly we as a nation need to have defensible borders. I do not subscribe to the anarchic ideology of "open borders" -- popularized by the the amnesty-first crowd with the symbol of a butterfly that respects no territorial limits. I fail to see why some immigration activists would oppose a strong, non-porous border. Also, why wouldn't advocates favor the speedy deportation of violent criminals and other threats to national security?

As far as the 11 million in the United States, the vast majority have nothing to fear whoever is the next president. On Nov. 20 last year, the Department of Homeland Security issued a revised policy on enforcement priorities. Anyone continuously present in the United States prior to Jan. 1, 2014 -- even with a previous deportation order -- is not considered a priority for deportation if they do not have a serious criminal record.

It is now established practice for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at least in New York City, to agree to "administratively close" all deportation cases that are not on the ICE priority list. The top priorities for deportation are those immigrants with serious criminal records, gang members, anyone posing a threat to national security, and recent entrants, ie. those arriving after Jan. 1, 2014.

No future president is going to toughen ICE priorities. It would be politically and morally unacceptable. Eventually there will be a broad legalization covering the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants in the United States at least prior to Jan. 1, 2014. There may not be a speedy path to citizenship, but it is my experience over 20 years as an immigration lawyer that my clients primarily want protection against deportation, work authorization and the freedom to visit their home countries in times of emergency. Citizenship is not even on their radar screen. But their children born here are U.S. Citizens, and notwithstanding some grandstanding by Donald Trump, will remain so.

There has been entirely too much fear-mongering and hysteria on both sides of the immigration debate. But across the political spectrum, we should all agree on a policy that fortifies the southern border against illegal immigration but also provides a pathway to legal status for the millions of unauthorized immigrants with deep roots and family connections in the United States. Despite his overblown rhetoric, I think even Donald Trump would agree.


David Sperling is an immigration attorney on Long Island.