Trump Promises to Deport Undocumented Immigrants With Criminal Records, But What Does That Mean?

Lead Photo: Photo: Richard Shiro/AP
Photo: Richard Shiro/AP
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In his first post-election interview, president-elect Donald Trump sat down with Lesley Stahl to discuss his vision for the United States. While Trump clarified that he’s fine with gay marriage since it’s already “been settled,” he didn’t believe the topic of abortion was off limits. Though the Supreme Court legalized abortions via the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, he said that states should ultimately decide if its permissible. Women who end up in states that outlaw abortions should then go to different states for the procedure, according to Trump. And it’s hardly the only disconcerting thing he said during the 60 Minutes interview. Trump reiterated his plan to make removal of immigrants one of his administration’s top priorities.

Immediately after he takes office, he plans to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants. “What we are going to do is get the people that are criminals and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” he said, according to BuzzFeed. “But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.”

Though he does specify that drug dealers and gang members will be on his administration’s radar, he also speaks vaguely during the interview. Criminal record encompasses everything from violent crimes to drug charges. In the past, he’s made it clear that he plans to expand the meaning of “criminal alien,” according to NPR.

“Trump has vowed to expand the definition of ‘criminal alien,’ for example, to include immigrants in the US illegally who are convicted of drunken driving,” wrote John Burnett. “Without the approval of Congress, a President Trump could instruct his immigration agents to round up every immigrant convicted of a crime and deport them all.”

Back in August, the Los Angeles Times suggested that Trump’s immigration enforcement may not largely differ from his predecessor’s. With his 2014 executive action on immigration, President Barack Obama – who at more than 2.5 million removals has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president – instructed the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to focus on criminals and not breaking up families, according to ABC News. In 2015, 81 percent of those removed were priority one removals – that is “threats to national security, border security, and public safety.” Priority two includes those charged with misdemeanor crimes and “new immigration violators.”

During his interview, Trump talks about taking immediate action, without talking about the logistics. Deportation is a slow process. As the New York Daily News notes, a court must find an immigrant – even if they’ve committed a crime – deportable. The Fifth Amendment guarantees everyone the right to due process. There’s also the question of expense. The Center for American Progress estimates that it costs about $10,000 to deport a person. For two to three million people, that’d come in at $20 to $30 billion.

This isn’t the first time Trump’s said two to three million undocumented immigrants have criminal records. Back in September, the Washington Post fact checked the immigration speech he gave on August 31 in Phoenix, Arizona and found that if he’s speaking about undocumented immigrants who committed violent crimes, he arrived at those numbers through “fuzzy math.”

Though Trump cites a 2013 Department of Homeland Security fiscal report that states there are 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens,” this number includes both undocumented immigrants, lawful permanent residents, and those with temporary visas. Jessica Vaughan – director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to see immigration limited – said the 1.9 million figure comes from an unnamed DHS source. The Migration Policy Institute – a think tank that remains partial on immigration legislation – calculated that there’s more like 820,000 undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions.