How Will Trump's Deportation Plan Actually Work? (Spoiler: It Probably Won't)
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

How Will Trump's Deportation Plan Actually Work? (Spoiler: It Probably Won't)

After promising on the campaign trail to deport more than 11 million illegal immigrants, President-elect Donald Trump has somewhat softened his stance. He now intends to deport about three million people instead. But one thing still boggles the mind: How in the hell is Trump going to pull this off?

In the wake of his shocking victory, Trump stated on 60 Minutes that he will not in fact be kicking more than 11 million people out of the United States. Instead, he'll be deporting a comparatively reasonable (and we use that word aware that it fits more loosely than that old housedress your granny wears) three million illegal immigrants.

"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 two million, it could even be three million, we are getting them out of our country or we're going to incarcerate," Trump said.

There are a few tiny problems with Trump's grand plan. For one thing, while the Obama administration estimates there are just under two million "removable criminal aliens" in the United States, not all are illegal immigrants. Some hold green cards or temporary visas or have been convicted of non-violent crimes, as the New York Times reported.

It's also not that easy to deport people in the United States. Here, government officials can't simply go around knocking on doors, frog-march them to the nearest airplane and ship them out of the country.

Then there's the issue of actually rounding these people up. President Barack Obama's administration worked with local law enforcement to find criminal immigrants, and Trump has said he'll do the same. If local law enforcement refuses to work with the feds on this — the Los Angeles Police Department has already said this week it will not be participating in these immigrant round-ups, and more local law enforcement agencies are expected to do likewise — Trump says he'll just cut off the federal funding. Such a neat solution, isn't it?

But once a person has been tapped for deportation, that's not the end of the story. People are entitled to their day in court.

First they have to be served with notice to appear in court and answer the charges against them. Then they get to actually appear in court and apply for various forms of relief. The process can require several court dates before an immigration judge, and then they can appeal a ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals. In other words, this process can take years.

Even getting to the point of having a court date can take years. Last year about 60,000 children walked into the United States from Central America and were bumped to the front of the line for removal proceedings. This moved people who already had hearing dates to November 2019. Just imagine how a system that gets so backlogged from 60,000 extra children will handle three million more being dumped into the system, as the Asian Journal noted earlier this year.

Of course, the other option is to just take the illegal immigrants out without all of the flimflam of legal proceedings, but that comes across as something the Third Reich would do, so one hopes the Trump administration doesn't go this route.

But aside from all the pesky legal questions, there's an angle that should make even Trump prick up his ears and pay attention: It's going to be insanely expensive.

Trump stated in September — way back when it seemed much less likely he would ever be president — that his plan was to ship all of the "bad immigrants" out within 18 months to two years. If he ends up deporting, say, three million people, it will add up to about 125,000 per month, if it takes two years, and more than 166,000 per month if federal immigration officials step it up and move things along within 18 months.

It'll also cost tons of money, at least $100 billion, to deport three million people and keep them from coming back into the country lawfully for the next 20 years, based on a report by the American Action Forum published in 2015. (The report looked at the expense of getting rid of more than 11 million immigrants as Trump originally proposed, which will cost between $400 billion and $600 billion. Ousting three million immigrants is thus, relatively speaking, a bargain. In other words, Trump's much vaunted business acumen is already paying off, if you consider cutting back on the number of people you're deporting a form of cutting costs.)

Despite the many questions about how exactly Trump will legally and financially pull this particular campaign promise off, Mexican officials seem to believe he's going to follow through. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced Monday that the Mexican government is working on a plan to deal with these promised mass deportations. So far, there's no word from the Mexican government about when it's going to send our new president-elect the big fat check for the wall we're going to build.

That makes sense, though. After all, there's no point in building a wall until we get all of those people on the other side of it. Somehow. But that should be wrapped up within two years of Trump's taking office, so keep your eyes peeled for the big day the wall construction begins.

Trump should take a page from former President George W. Bush and get one of those "Mission Accomplished" signs to stand under the moment the last of of those marked for deportation hotfoots it over the border. The odds of this mission going just as well seem highly favorable.

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