The moment in President-elect Donald Trump's interview with 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl this past Sunday which has left the greatest impression on supporters and detractors alike is the following exchange:
Lesley Stahl: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants?
Donald Trump: 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 be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we're getting them out of our country, they're here illegally. After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about who are terrific people, they're terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that— But before we make that determination— Lesley, it's very important, we want to secure our border.
Much of the protesting of Trump's election has been motivated by his stated plans to deport "two…even three million" people, but as President Obama leaves office with extraordinarily high approval ratings, the legacy of his administration regarding deportations isn't receiving the same kind of scrutiny as Trump's prospective policies.
Put simply, President Obama presided over the deportations of over 2.5 million people—that's more than the previous two administrations combined over a period twice as long—and by far the most of any administration ever.
Pres Obama has almost deported more unauthorized immigrants than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined. pic.twitter.com/7lkmoKJwbD
— CSMPolitics (@csm_politics) October 24, 2016
There are some important distinctions between Trump's plan and Obama's actions. Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from "sanctuary cities" and police departments which refuse to aid in the federal enforcement of immigration policies. Trump also intends to target those undocumented immigrants charged, but not convicted, of legal offenses, and increase the use of "expedited removals," which bypass immigration courts and grant immigration officers the authority to immediately expel people from the country.
As far as Trump's ambition to deport two or three million "bad hombres," that's more undocumented immigrants with criminal records than are currently in the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. And even if there were more than the reported 1.9 million "criminal" aliens on this side of the border, there are still laws preventing a mass deportation on the scale Trump proposes.
The Independent explains:
Under the Due Process Clause all illegal immigrants are afforded rights under the US Constitution and are entitled to full removal proceedings in court. The president can't deport by edict and since the courts are operating under a major backlog, they won't be deported immediately in a rerun of Eisenhower's Operation Wetback, when hundreds of Mexicans were illegally deported without being given the chance to prove their citizenship.
As far as the "terrific people"—the undocumented immigrants without criminal records Trump referred to in his 60 Minutes interview—their fate under the next administration will have to wait until "everything gets normalized," which could be a while.
Below you can watch my Reason TV doc "How Obama's War on Drugs Destroys Legal Immigrant Families":