De­por­ta­tion hys­te­ria

Our view: When will Don­ald Trump ad­mit there won’t be any mass ex­o­dus of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants?


Since Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion vic­tory, the rhetoric over his hard-line stance on im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies hasn’t cooled a bit. In a re­cent in­ter­view on “60 Min­utes,” the pres­i­dent-elect vowed to de­port or in­car­cer­ate as many a 3 mil­lion im­mi­grants. Not to be out­done, some big city may­ors from Seat­tle to New York stepped for­ward promis­ing to main­tain their sta­tus as “sanc­tu­ary cities” that will refuse to en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws.

But what if for all the blus­ter and threats, the pos­tur­ing and prom­ises, a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pur­sues an im­mi­gra­tion strat­egy not all that dif­fer­ent from that of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama? For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, that might be where he’s headed. Here’s why.

First, of­ten over­looked by Mr. Trump’s more vir­u­lent an­ti­im­mi­grant sup­port­ers is that fact that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready set records for de­por­ta­tions. Since 2008, an es­ti­mated 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple have been de­ported by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, with an em­pha­sis on the very in­di­vid­u­als Mr. Trump claims he wants to ship out — gang mem­bers, felons and other se­ri­ous crim­i­nals.

So if he’s talk­ing long term, Mr. Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion stand may not be quite as bold as it ap­pears. In­deed, it would be hard to see the num­bers add up oth­er­wise — there sim­ply aren’t 3 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented con­victed crim­i­nals to de­port. The num­ber is more likely un­der 900,000, ac­cord­ing to U.S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute es­ti­mates, and it’s prob­a­bly drop­ping given that il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings have fallen in re­cent years.

Sec­ond is a sim­ple lack of de­por­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture. Ever try to round up mil­lions of peo­ple who don’t want to be caught? Dur­ing the cam­paign, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee spoke of a pos­si­ble “de­por­ta­tion force,” but Repub­li­cans in Congress have al­ready poo-pooed that idea. And it’s not just a lack of im­mi­gra­tion agents — de­tain­ing sus­pects and lit­i­gat­ing all those cases would pose a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge to ex­ist­ing resources as well.

In fact, there’s al­ready a backup in the court sys­tem — per­haps a half-mil­lion or more cases — from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s on­go­ing de­por­ta­tion ef­forts. Mr. Trump can vil­ify the es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in the U.S. with­out doc­u­men­ta­tion all he wants, but the law gives those in­di­vid­u­als cer­tain rights — among them the right to ap­peal any de­por­ta­tion order.

Given those le­gal, lo­gis­ti­cal and re­source im­ped­i­ments, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble Mr. Trump is pulling a fast one of his sup­port­ers and will sim­ply make more noise about de­por­ta­tion than his pre­de­ces­sors. The build­ing of a wall along the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico may prove to be in the same vein — many miles of fenc­ing al­ready ex­ist along the Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona bor­ders, bar­ri­ers that have proven far from im­per­vi­ous. Mean­while, more than 40 per­cent Demon­stra­tors in Florida protest Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. of the un­doc­u­mented ar­rive legally but then over­stay their visas, mak­ing a fence, wall or any other bar­rier moot.

Yet even if a Pres­i­dent Trump doesn’t hire a de­por­ta­tion force, build much of a wall or take any of the dra­co­nian mea­sures both his crit­ics and many of his sup­port­ers have been an­tic­i­pat­ing, he’s al­ready helped change the Amer­i­can cul­ture — for the worse. Anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment is on the rise. Polls show Amer­i­can at­ti­tudes to­ward im­mi­grants from the Mid­dle East, Latin Amer­ica and Africa are more neg­a­tive than pos­i­tive re­gard­less of le­gal sta­tus.

Lati­nos are more likely to dis­trust law en­force­ment and not re­port crimes or co­op­er­ate with crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. One study pub­lished in the An­nals of Emer­gency Medicine sug­gests Latino fear of po­lice and de­por­ta­tion has got­ten so bad that they are less likely to call 911 for an am­bu­lance or emer­gency med­i­cal help dur­ing a heart at­tack — with po­ten­tially fa­tal con­se­quences.

And hate crimes di­rected to­ward Mex­i­cans and other Lati­nos are on the rise as well. More than 400 in­ci­dents of ha­rass­ment and in­tim­i­da­tion have been recorded by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter since Elec­tion Day. The lead­ing tar­get? Im­mi­grants, with136 such cases as of Mon­day.

Mean­while, Mr. Trump’s at­tacks on the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment or NAFTA could lead to a trade war and tar­iffs that will de­press the Mex­i­can econ­omy and mo­ti­vate more peo­ple to en­ter the U.S. il­le­gally. If all that sounds con­fus­ing, bingo, you’ve got it about right. Mass de­por­ta­tions are un­likely, but mass hys­te­ria over a bo­gus im­mi­gra­tion threat? That may be closer to what’s in store for the coun­try.


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