Trump’s Mass Deportation Strategy Explained

While there has been a great deal of confusion around Trump’s immigration wiggle and concepts like "mass deportation" in the past few weeks, his strategy towards the 11m and others here without authorization is very clear: they all have to go, and he will ensure they do through an unprecedented expansion of the state’s power to round people up and deport them.

After Obama’s victory in 2008, the restrictionist movement pragmatically realized that its goal of outright forced removal of 11m (core to the 2005 House GOP "Sensenbrenner Bill") was no longer on the table.  They moved on to “attrition through enforcement” that would count on making the threat of deportation so ubiquitous and terrifying that undocumented immigrants would "self-deport."  This strategy was manifested in Arizona’s famous HB 1070 bill, other copy cats in states like GA and PA, and of course Mitt Romney’s own commitment to "self-deportation" in 2012.

It also explains the extraordinary demonization of President Obama for his 2011 Morton reforms that prioritized undocumented immigrants with criminal records for deportation.  By prioritizing criminals for deportation, DHS was also acknowledging that the other 10m or so undocumented immigrants without criminal records were no longer a target of our deportation machinery.  Without this imminent threat, there is no "self-deportation."  While obviously a smart use of limited resources, the 2011 Morton reforms also dealt an ideological death blow to the restrictionist movement.

These reforms were violently opposed by restrictionist leaders like Rep. Steve King.  In 2013, the House GOP passed the “King Amendment” which called from the rollback of the Morton reforms by name.  When the bi-partisan Senate bill came to the House in the fall of 2013, the central reason Republicans refused to take it up was the claim that these new sensible enforcement priorities were "lawless," and that the President couldn’t be trusted.  To be clear – the prioritization of criminals for deportation was the central reason the House used to walk away from the immigration reform debate in 2014.  In fact, the only immigration bill passed by the House in 2014 in response to the Senate bill was another version of the King Amendment, putting Paul Ryan and his colleagues on record for blocking legalization and the re-establishment of the ubiquitous 24/7 threat of deportation.

In Trump’s published immigration plan and in his remarks last night the Republican nominee goes even further – he calls for the deputization of all other federal, state and local law enforcement in the round ‘em up efforts. This would create a super sized, truly ubiquitous, 24/7 deportation force, far greater than what DHS offers today. The reporting by some that he has backed off mass deportation is just plain wrong. He made clear in Arizona last night that all 11m undocumented immigrants in the country would have to leave and return to their country of origin with no guarantee of return. This would require them to quit their jobs, sell their homes/break their leases, rip up families and return to a country they no longer know. For those from countries like Mexico with huge backlogs, the application process to re-enter could easily take 20-30 years. This is anything but humane, soft or even pragmatic.

The big innovation in the Trump plan is that he now uses the threat of "criminal aliens" – the same ones the restrictionists have fought from prioritization in recent years – as the impetus to construct his massive deportation force.  Once constructed it would of course catch non criminals in its net but most importantly it would establish the Orwellian immediate, imminent threat of deportation required to scare the rest of the 11m into "self-deporting."  The reason Trump and his team suggests they are open to figuring out what to do with those who remain (with no hope of legalization or special visa) is that they do not expect there to be any one who remains with him and his policies in place.

Finally, those commenting and reporting on Trump and immigration should stop taking the daily bait he is tossing out. He has made his choice.  The most hard core of the restrictionists – Sen. Sessions and Joe Arpaio – were on stage with him last night in Arizona.  Sessions even accompanied him to Mexico, something the Mexican government never should have allowed.  The speech he gave last night, and his already published immigration plan, are the most enthusiastic embrace of restrictionist politics by a major party leader in the last two generations of American politics.  There is no pivot, no wiggle, no softening – just the nasty, over the top embrace of some of the darkest impulses in American political life today. 

Believe me.

Further Reading

Greg Sargent, Washington Post, "Trump Returns to His Old Standbys: Xenophobia, Hate, Lies, and Yes, Mass Deportations"

Simon Rosenberg, NDN, "On Immigration Enforcement, The GOP's Decade of Blocking Sensible Reform"

Key Passages from Trump Immigration Speech

“For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined above. Those who have left to seek entry under this new system will not be awarded surplus visas, but will have to enter under the immigration caps or limits that will be established.

We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration. There will be no amnesty. 

Our message to the world will be this: you cannot obtain legal status, or become a citizen of the United States, by illegally entering our country.....

......In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced, will be enforced. As with any law enforcement activity, we will set priorities. But unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement. And ICE and Border Patrol officers will be allowed to do their jobs the way their jobs are supposed to be done.

Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise we don’t have a country."