A personal note: Time to start writing about immigration news again. I’m finding it hard to write about news these days, or even to read the news. Still, I know we need to pay attention, painful as that is. Immigration news seems especially important, in the face of increasing expressions of xenophobia and threats of walls and deportations. So I will try to write more regularly about immigration news in the months ahead. I hope some will find this writing useful.
Since the election, Trump’s biggest immigration statement has been his 60 Minutes deportation statement:
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records – gang members, drug dealers. We have a lot of these people – probably 2 million. It could even be 3 million. We’re getting them out of our country, or we’re going to incarcerate.”
The numbers aren’t accurate, and the promise to deport isn’t practical. Here’s why:
There are not two to three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records, according to anyone’s count. From Julie Myers Wood, head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency under President George W. Bush, to the Migration Policy Institute, anyone who knows the numbers agrees on that. The actual number of undocumented immigrants with criminal records might be around 820,000. To get to the higher number, you have to include anyone who is foreign-born, which means including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. You also have to include a lot of people who have committed less-serious crimes. As Wood told NPR:
“I would say that the Obama administration really focused on the worst of the worst criminals, and my understanding would be that a Trump administration would look at those who have been convicted of less serious crimes as eligible for deportation.”
In Fiscal Year 2008, the last fiscal year of the Bush administration, 31 percent of those deported had criminal convictions. That number rose under Obama administration policy guidelines to a high of 59 percent in FY 2015.
Deporting all those people: Not practical
The Obama administration has focused on deporting people with criminal records for eight years.
They have deported more people than any previous administration in history — a total of 2.5 million by the end of FY 2015, compared to just over 2 million in the entire eight years of President George W. Bush. Snopes reported that:
“In the 105 years between 1892 and 1997, the U.S. deported 2.1 million people — meaning that under presidents Bush and Obama, the number of people deported by the U.S. in the course of a century was more than doubled in just 16 years of consecutive presidencies.”
Is that a statistic to be proud of? No. But it’s there – and if Trump intends to deport even more people, he’s going to face some hard realities.
First, deportation costs money. A lot of money. Back to Julie Myers Wood, head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency:
“It would cost, you know, a huge amount of money. If you look at the money that’s spent, you know, every year for President Obama’s team to deport kind of 400,000 and you kind of step that up, you can see you’re talking kind of billions of dollars to be spent on removal.”
Right now, the Department of Homeland Security is funded to deport about 400,000 people per year.
Apart from the money issue, there’s the time factor. When the government tries to deport someone who is already in the United States, they need to go through the immigration court system. That system is hugely overburdened and backlogged already. The average wait for a removal hearing is 675 days. Nothing quick or easy about that.
So – one more Trumped-up deportation threat. Knowing the facts doesn’t make the threat any less scary. Its real purposes have less to do with actual plans than with riling up his anti-immigrant constituency and threatening immigrants, documented or not.