NEW YORK — In one of his first forays into policy as a presidential candidate, Republican Donald Trump calls for the deportation of all 11 million people estimated to be living in the country illegally while allowing the "really good people" to return.
It's a plan Trump offers with few specifics — and one complicated by the messy realities of the nation's immigration system.
Such an effort may be more difficult than Trump realizes because deporting so many people means finding them first. The government does not know the identities of many of the millions of people who have come into the country illegally or remained after their legally issued visas expired. Locating immigrants who don't have a legal immigration status has stymied officials for decades.
Deporting them all "is impractical and is opposed by a large majority of Americans," said Clint Bolick, an Arizona lawyer who co-authored a book on immigration policy with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, himself a GOP presidential candidate.
During an interview Wednesday on CNN, Trump said the "good ones" could return via an "expedited" process and then remain in the country legally.
The billionaire businessman and former reality television star has shot to the top of polls in the crowded race for the Republican presidential nomination in large part because of his hardline stance on immigration.
"I want to move 'em out, and we're going to move 'em back in and let them be legal," he told CNN.
As for his plans for the "bad ones," Trump said: "We have a lot of bad dudes, as I said. We have a lot of really bad people here. I want to get the bad ones out. ... And, by the way, and they're never coming back."
But Trump dodged questioned in the interview about how he would locate those he wants to deport. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to answer questions Thursday about that process or how much it might cost.
In recent years, the Obama administration has relied on fingerprints collected by local jails and sent to the FBI to identify immigrants living in the country illegally who were also arrested on criminal charges. But that program has been challenged in court. Meanwhile, hundreds of local jurisdictions are no longer complying with requests to detain immigrants until federal authorities can take custody of them.
The nation's immigration courts already face a yearslong backlog of more than 451,000 deportation cases. For immigrants who choose to fight the government's efforts to remove them from the country, the process can take several years.
Bolick described Trump's ideas as "nativist rhetoric" that only manages "something resembling a coherent immigration strategy." He said Trump's suggestions sends mixed messages, sounding at once open to a path to legal status while also proposing to deport all offenders.
Beyond the logistics of a comprehensive round-up are the political implications of such an effort. During a campaign stop in central Florida on Monday, Bush told a group of about 150 pastors and other religious leaders that America's immigration system is "broken" but that deporting 11 million people is not a solution.
"The idea of self-deportation, of rounding people up, is not an American value," Bush said. "Americans reject that idea."
Until Wednesday, Trump largely side-stepped questions about how he would tackle an overhaul of the nation's immigration system. The issue is one that two-thirds of Republicans said was very or extremely important to them in a July Associated Press-GfK poll and also one Trump takes on regularly.
In his campaign announcement speech, Trump said the Mexican government was shipping its criminals and rapists to the U.S. While those comments drew widespread criticism, he said Thursday during an appearance at a golf resort he owns in Scotland that he deserves credit for bringing attention to the issue.
"The people are very thankful I was able to bring that argument out," he said. "I think you know that."
Trump told CNN that his business credentials and experience in the private sector made him capable of solving problems others cannot.
"Politicians aren't going to find them because they have no clue. We will find them, we will get them out," Trump said. "It's feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don't know how to manage."
Caldwell reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Iowa, Sergio Bustos in Florida and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Jill Colvin and Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/colvinj and http://twitter.com/acaldwellap