Donald Trump

Trump's Mass Deportation Plan Is Anti-American

Donald Trump’s promise to carry out “the largest domestic deportation operation” in U.S. history would tear apart families, harm American workers, and require militaristic enforcement.


Former President Donald Trump has promised to enact a wide range of restrictionist immigration policies if he wins the presidential race this year, but his most extreme proposal is to carry out "the largest domestic deportation operation in American history." In an interview last month with Time, Trump suggested that between 15 million and 20 million people could be targeted by the plan.

The idea of mass deportations had buy-in from other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And 51 percent of people surveyed by Axios and The Harris Poll in April said they support mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.

The proposal has entered the mainstream, though few who embrace it as an antidote to a chaotic border policy seem to realize what implementation would cost. It would require militaristic enforcement that would bleed into many parts of everyday life; it would tear long-present parents and providers away from their U.S. citizen children; it would rattle key economic sectors; it would carry an extraordinary price tag; and it would fly in the face of American ideals.

In other words, Trump's mass deportation plan isn't just anti-immigrant. It's anti-American.

An April report from the Office of Homeland Security Statistics put the number of unauthorized immigrants around 11 million as of January 2022. (The count includes people who entered the country illegally or overstayed visas, as well as those who benefit from forms of prosecutorial discretion, such as individuals brought to the country illegally as kids.) Targeting those 11 million would amount to targeting about 3 percent of the U.S. population, while Trump's numbers would represent about 5 percent to 6 percent of the population.

Trump has said that his administration would use local law enforcement, the National Guard, and potentially the U.S. military to carry out deportations. "Advisers are eyeing military bases for expanded detention capacity," reported The Wall Street Journal. Jason Houser, former chief of staff at Immigration and Customs and Enforcement under President Joe Biden, told The Atlantic that Trump may well need to use warehouses or abandoned malls to temporarily house migrants slated for removal. Houser estimated that hundreds of thousands of enforcement officers could be needed to detain and deport migrants at the magnitude Trump wants. Hard-liner Trump administration immigration adviser Stephen Miller has suggested that Trump may deploy National Guard troops from red states to blue states that refuse to comply with the deportation plan, per The Atlantic.

Fifty-six percent of respondents to a Reuters/Ipsos poll "said most or all immigrants in the U.S. illegally should be deported," per Reuters, but about half also said they opposed putting undocumented immigrants into detention camps while waiting to be deported. Americans may prove more comfortable with the idea of mass deportations than the reality, which would inevitably tear apart families and lead to horrible scenes of enforcement, given the "large-scale raids" Miller has called for.

The plan would target millions of people who have established productive, peaceful lives in the U.S. and support U.S. citizen children. Roughly 80 percent of the country's unauthorized population has lived here for over five years, according to a 2019 estimate from the Migration Policy Institute. Just over one-fifth have lived in the U.S. for two decades or more. Eighteen percent are married to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, and one-third—over 3.5 million people—reside with at least one U.S. citizen child under 18. Over a quarter of the unauthorized population, slightly more than 3 million, own a home.

Mass deportations would punish the U.S. citizen children and spouses of undocumented immigrants, but they would also significantly disrupt the economy, which would affect vast numbers of Americans. About half of the country's farm workers are undocumented; targeting this work force would lead to labor shortages and raise already-high food costs. The same is true in the construction sector, which disproportionately employs undocumented immigrants. And since many undocumented immigrants are entrepreneurs who create American jobs, deporting them would put U.S. citizens out of work.

Mass deportations would prompt American "business owners to cut back or start fewer new businesses, in some cases shifting their investments to less labor-intensive technologies and industries, while scaling back production to reflect the loss of consumers for their goods," warned George Mason University economist Michael Clemens. "Prior episodes of mass deportations and exclusions" in U.S. history, Clemens continued, have reduced both employment and earnings for American workers "in the short run and long run."

Even if these consequences don't touch all Americans, the price tag of Trump's plan would. Taxpayers would be on the hook for exorbitant enforcement costs. In an analysis conducted for MarketWatch, researchers with the Penn Wharton Budget Model estimated that Trump's deportation plan "could easily reach more than $1 trillion over 10 years." That estimate "comes in high relative to some other sources that still name a staggering price for deportation," wrote J.D. Tuccille for Reason this week. "If Trump and company want to own the issue, the costs associated with it also belong to them."

But this conversation is about much more than monetary costs. It's about the government wielding force against largely peaceful, nonviolent residents who help create vibrant American communities. It's about whether deploying police officers, National Guard members, and the military to extract undocumented immigrants from their homes and workplaces in raids is consistent with American values. It's about the civil rights and due process violations that will inevitably occur if this plan comes to fruition.

The U.S. immigration system is undeniably broken, but mass deportations won't fix it or create order. They would change the face of the country for the worse.