SALT LAKE CITY — In the lead-up to President Donald Trump’s reelection announcement on Tuesday, he vowed to deport “millions” of people living in the United States illegally starting “next week.”
“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump tweeted Monday night, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
The tweet referred to a plan that has reportedly been in the works for months, aiming to round up thousands of immigrant parents and children in major cities across the country who were ordered by immigration judges to leave the country, The Washington Post reported.
The arrests would be part of an overall strategy of deterring Central American families from trying to cross the border into the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Lawmakers and immigrant advocates have expressed alarm that ICE would implement this plan, which potentially could separate parents and children.
According to an administration official who spoke to The Associated Press, the word “millions” in Trump’s tweets refer to the more than 1 million people in the United States with final deportation orders. There are more than 10.5 million immigrants in the United States who arrived in the country illegally, according to Pew Research Center.
The tweets came just one day before Trump kicked off his 2020 election campaign Tuesday at a rally in Orlando, Florida, and echoed a similar statement Trump made in Phoenix three months before his election in 2016, vowing to deport millions of immigrants who had allegedly committed crimes.
“Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone,” Trump said. “They’re going to be gone. It will be over. They’re going out. They’re going out fast.”
It didn't take long for immigration — a key theme in Trump's 2016 campaign and throughout his presidency — to surface in his Tuesday night speech in Florida.
Trump said a Democratic president and Democratic-led Congress “would strip Americans of their constitutional rights while flooding the country with illegal immigrants.”
“Build that wall! Build that wall!” his supporters chanted in response, according to Fortune.
Trump’s latest immigration crackdown, The New York Times reported, has also stirred up fear among immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
But it has also been met with skepticism. Here’s why experts are saying Trump might have a hard time making good on his threat:
Trump’s vow to deport “millions” of immigrants is both ambitious and “exorbitantly expensive," The Washington Post reported.
Currently, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement averages around 7,000 deportations per month. With unauthorized border crossings soaring to their highest levels in more than a decade, ICE has been experiencing a shortage of funding and detention beds.
Staffing is another problem. Rounding up and deporting large numbers of immigrants in their homes and neighborhoods will require significant amounts of planning, coordination and manpower. With just 6,000 deportation officers across the country, arresting one million immigrants would require each officer to take on more than 165 cases each, according to The Associated Press.
John Sandweg, a former ICE head under Obama, told The Associated Press that an effort to hastily deport more than a million people was “a fantasy.”
“The idea that somehow by just presidential will the agency's going to go (up) 250 percent to the biggest, largest number of removals in its history is just ridiculous,” he told The Washington Post.
The record high for deportations happened in 2012 under President Barack Obama, when 419,384 people were deported. The Obama administration deported 1.6 million immigrants between 2009 and 2012, and about 2 million immigrants were deported during George W. Bush’s administration, according to The Associated Press.
An 'irresponsible decision'?
Trump may have gotten in his own way by blowing the cover off the plan with his tweet, making the endeavour’s success even more unlikely, experts say.
Trump "blindsided" senior White House and immigration officials by tweeting the plan, Vox reported. On Tuesday, current and former ICE officials said that Trump’s tweet had potentially compromised the plan, predicting that immigrants with final deportation orders would likely scatter or go into hiding, making ICE’s job more difficult.
It is highly unusual to publicize law enforcement operations, and Trump lashed out at a local California elected official for doing the same last year
When Oakland, California, Mayor Libby Schaaf learned of a Northern California deportation operation and warned the immigrant community, Trump suggested that she be prosecuted for obstruction of justice, the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time.
Thomas Homan, head of ICE at that time, called Schaaf’s disclosure an “irresponsible decision” claiming that ICE could have arrested more people were it not for her warning.
Following Trump's Monday tweet, Schaaf said Tuesday she would warn again immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally of any planned raids, according to the Chronicle.
“The idea of mass rounding up of people is what violates civil rights,” Schaaf said. “We have seen it over and over again. This is a frightening threat from the president. I hope it is just more mindless rhetoric as he prepares to announce his reelection bid, but we have got to be prepared.”
'Right now, I’m really afraid'
In a Fox News opinion column, Homan praised the president's plan. He said that ICE operations that target families serve as a crucial deterrent to immigration, and that such a strategy was successful under the Obama administration.
"You might as well just open the border and let everyone who wants to enter the U.S. come in if deportation orders handed down by judge are ignored not only by those ordered deported but by our law enforcement agencies," he wrote. "What do you think the border would look like then? And what dangers would we face?"
Some have suggested Trump’s agenda is simply a tactic to fire up his base as he launches his bid for reelection.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said in a statement that Trump should “stop terrorizing immigrant families” and work with both sides of the aisle to address the root causes of the problems in America’s immigration system, according to the Texas Tribune.
“Donald Trump’s new tweet continues to push cruel and hateful immigration policies that separate families and traumatize children, while doing nothing to fix our broken immigration system,” she said. “Of course, he’s not doing this to fix our immigration system: he’s doing it to throw anti-immigrant red meat to his base, and stroke their fear and fury against America’s immigrant population.”
Others have criticized Trump’s vow as a fear-mongering tactic designed to create panic among immigrants living in the United States illegally. Such fear was immediately felt in immigrant communities following Trump’s Monday tweet.28 comments on this story
“Right now, I’m really afraid,” Claudia, an immigrant who arrived in the U.S. illegally from Honduras, now living in New Orleans, told The New York Times. She crossed the border in 2014 to seek asylum, but after she missed a court date, a judge issued a deportation order for her entire family.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Council, spoke out against Trump’s plan.
“Intention societal disruption, creating mass fear, confusion and panic is not good public policy or consistent with American-Judeo-Christian values,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “This rhetoric will push many further into the shadows, and places an already marginalized segment of society at risk.”