WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Monday promised to remove “millions” of undocumented immigrants from the U.S., reviving a pledge from his first week in office fewer than 24 hours before he officially kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign.
“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 posted on Twitter on Monday. “They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
The president provided few details of the plan and White House officials declined to provide specifics. Instead, the administration referred USA TODAY to Trump’s tweet and to a June 4 briefing by Mark Morgan, acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Morgan signaled then that the agency would increase deportations of families who had received deportation orders.
“We will be going after individuals who have gone through due process, who have received final orders of deportation,” he said. “That will include families. Right now we’re talking about that and what it should look like.”
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ICE: Agency will increase family deportations, according to acting director Mark Morgan
The president has previously vowed to remove undocumented immigrants who had been ordered removed from the country by an immigration judge. It happened just days into his presidency. On Jan. 25, 2017, Trump signed an executive order instructing ICE agents to prioritize the nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants who have such orders of removal.
Even so, removing “millions” of undocumented immigrants, like the president asserted Monday, would involve clearing budget and logistical hurdles.
ICE agents have been following orders, arresting undocumented immigrants who were showing up for their regular, annual check-ins at ICE offices. But the administration has struggled to deport all of those undocumented immigrants because of historic backlogs in immigration court and the administration’s decision to deploy ICE agents to the southern border to respond to the growing number of Central American asylum-seekers.
ICE also faces budget constraints from Congress that limits how many people it can deport to about 400,000 a year. That’s why Sarah Pierce, an immigration policy analyst at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, says Trump’s threat to deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants is “wildly unrealistic.”
Logistically, she says that’s not possible. And from a public relations standpoint, following the family separation crisis last summer along the southern border, she doesn’t know why Trump would pursue an immigration enforcement strategy that will undoubtably lead to the arrests of entire families or the separation of undocumented parents from their U.S. citizen children.
“It’s wild to think that exactly a year since the administration dealt with mass public outcry…that it would again institute a harsh immigration enforcement policy against families and risk that visual of families being separated,” Pierce said.
Despite the issues that stand in the way of his promise, the president’s tweet drew attention to illegal immigration just before he kicks off his 2020 campaign with a rally Tuesday evening in Orlando, Florida. The president’s efforts to tighten U.S. immigration, particularly at the southern border, has been a core policy priority for him and his base of supporters.
Generally, immigration enforcement actions are not disclosed in advance. In 2018, Trump threatened to have then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions charge the mayor of Oakland, Calif., with obstruction of justice after she tweeted about immigration raids in the city before they began.
The mayor, Libby Schaff, fired back at Trump on Twitter on Monday evening, writing “If you continue to threaten, target and terrorize families in my community… and if we receive credible information… you already know what our values are in Oakland — and we will unapologetically stand up for those values.”
Trump also added that “Guatemala is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement,” referring to a type of agreement that would require asylum seekers to apply in Guatemala if they first land in that country. Trump attempted to get Mexico to agree to a safe-third agreement amid recent talks over the flow of Central American migrants.
Trump had threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican imports in early June if Mexico did not address the migrants coming to the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Trump pulled the tariff threat after the two countries reached a deal that would keep migrants in Mexico while they applied for asylum and would deploy the Mexican national guard throughout the country to help enforce immigration laws.
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