Can Trump hit reset on deportation?
Shifts on signature issue raise questions
WASHINGTON — During a week of ping-ponging immigration stances, Donald Trump appears to be shifting his position from one which initially called for the deportation of all 11 million people here illegally to one that would focus on “criminal” immigrants.
Though it is true that some in the U.S. illegally have criminal records, the majority of those have violated only immigration laws or committed other nonviolent offenses, not the murders and assaults that Trump often brings up during stump speeches.
After a backlash from supporters worried he is backing down on a key campaign promise, Trump is now said to be reconsidering his change in policy. He is expected to outline his ideas Wednesday evening during a speech in Arizona.
Q: What does Trump want to do?
A: It’s not entirely clear. Though he still plans to build a wall along the Mexico border, he began speaking in recent days about “softening” his policy. In a Fox News interview, he spoke about backing away from his earlier call to create a “deportation force” that would round up and kick out all immigrants in the country illegally, including their American-born children in some cases.
In recent days, he has said he would instead focus deportations on those with criminal records.
Trump hasn’t said what specific policy changes would help immigration agents find convicted crimi- Immigration has placed Queens, N.Y., in one of the five most diverse counties in the U.S. nals and speed up their deportation. But he has insisted that law enforcement agents knowwhoandwhere they are.
Q: What is different from the Obama administration’s approach?
A: Not much actually. After suspected spies and terrorists, convicted criminals are already included in the highest priority category for deportation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement records say the agency deported 235,413 people last year, down from a record 409,849 in 2012. Over that time, the percentage of immigrants deported with criminal convictions increased from 55 percent in 2012, to 59 percent in 2015.
Of those deported from the interior of the U.S., 91 percent had criminal convictions in 2015, according to ICE statistics. That number was higher because it excludes deportations that occur closer to the border, where the legal and logistical hurdles are lower.
Obama administration officials say the total number of removals is down because a large percentage of people now apprehended are from Central America, and it takes longer to send people back to countries that don’t share a border with the U.S.
Q: How many immigrants have criminal records, and what are the most common crimes?
A: Exact figures are hard to find because immigrants here illegally often live in the shadows and aren’t always identified in crime statistics.
But studies have indicated that even as the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally tripled between 1990 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent, according to a 2015 report from the American Immigration Council.
The same report found the rate of incarceration is lower among all types of immigrants in the U.S. than native- born Americans; roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of native-born American men of that age.
Among immigrants with criminal convictions who were deported from the U.S., by far the most common felony conviction, about 31 percent, is an immigration violation, including entry, re-entry, false claims to citizenship and alien smuggling, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data from 2013.
About 15 percent of offenses are related to “dangerous drugs,” including possession, sale, distribution and manufacturing.
Assault charges make up about 10 percent of criminal deportations.
Q: What has been the reaction of Trump supporters?
A: Mixed. Some think his willingness to embrace a more humane approach to immigration reform will win over moderate Republicans.
But advocates of hardline immigration policies say they feel betrayed. They would still like to see Trump order immigration agents to deport anyone they find who is in the country illegally, rather than focus solely on recent arrivals, repeat immigration violators, and convicted criminals, as the Obama administration has done.