Charlie Savage et al., New York Times, November 11, 2023
Former President Donald J. Trump is planning an extreme expansion of his first-term crackdown on immigration if he returns to power in 2025 — including preparing to round up undocumented people already in the United States on a vast scale and detain them in sprawling camps while they wait to be expelled.
The plans would sharply restrict both legal and illegal immigration in a multitude of ways.
Mr. Trump wants to revive his first-term border policies, including banning entry by people from certain Muslim-majority nations and reimposing a Covid 19-era policy of refusing asylum claims — though this time he would base that refusal on assertions that migrants carry other infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
He plans to scour the country for unauthorized immigrants and deport people by the millions per year.
To help speed mass deportations, Mr. Trump is preparing an enormous expansion of a form of removal that does not require due process hearings. To help Immigration and Customs Enforcement carry out sweeping raids, he plans to reassign other federal agents and deputize local police officers and National Guard soldiers voluntarily contributed by Republican-run states.
To ease the strain on ICE detention facilities, Mr. Trump wants to build huge camps to detain people while their cases are processed and they await deportation flights. And to get around any refusal by Congress to appropriate the necessary funds, Mr. Trump would redirect money in the military budget, as he did in his first term to spend more on a border wall than Congress had authorized.
In a public reference to his plans, Mr. Trump told a crowd in Iowa in September: “Following the Eisenhower model, we will carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.” The reference was to a 1954 campaign to round up and expel Mexican immigrants that was named for an ethnic slur — “Operation Wetback.”
The constellation of Mr. Trump’s 2025 plans amounts to an assault on immigration on a scale unseen in modern American history. Millions of undocumented immigrants would be barred from the country or uprooted from it years or even decades after settling here.
Such a scale of planned removals would raise logistical, financial and diplomatic challenges and would be vigorously challenged in court. But there is no mistaking the breadth and ambition of the shift Mr. Trump is eyeing.
In a second Trump presidency, the visas of foreign students who participated in anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian protests would be canceled. U.S. consular officials abroad will be directed to expand ideological screening of visa applicants to block people the Trump administration considers to have undesirable attitudes. People who were granted temporary protected status because they are from certain countries deemed unsafe, allowing them to lawfully live and work in the United States, would have that status revoked.
Similarly, numerous people who have been allowed to live in the country temporarily for humanitarian reasons would also lose that status and be kicked out, including tens of thousands of the Afghans who were evacuated amid the 2021 Taliban takeover and allowed to enter the United States. Afghans holding special visas granted to people who helped U.S. forces would be revetted to see if they really did.
And Mr. Trump would try to end birthright citizenship for babies born in the United States to undocumented parents — by proclaiming that policy to be the new position of the government and by ordering agencies to cease issuing citizenship-affirming documents like Social Security cards and passports to them. That policy’s legal legitimacy, like nearly all of Mr. Trump’s plans, would be virtually certain to end up before the Supreme Court.
In interviews with The New York Times, several Trump advisers gave the most expansive and detailed description yet of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda in a potential second term. In particular, Mr. Trump’s campaign referred questions for this article to Stephen Miller, an architect of Mr. Trump’s first-term immigration policies who remains close to him and is expected to serve in a senior role in a second administration.
All of the steps Trump advisers are preparing, Mr. Miller contended in a wide-ranging interview, rely on existing statutes; while the Trump team would likely seek a revamp of immigration laws, the plan was crafted to need no new substantive legislation. And while acknowledging that lawsuits would arise to challenge nearly every one of them, he portrayed the Trump team’s daunting array of tactics as a “blitz” designed to overwhelm immigrant-rights lawyers.
“Any activists who doubt President Trump’s resolve in the slightest are making a drastic error: Trump will unleash the vast arsenal of federal powers to implement the most spectacular migration crackdown,” Mr. Miller said, adding, “The immigration legal activists won’t know what’s happening.”
Since Mr. Trump left office, the political environment on immigration has moved in his direction. He is also more capable now of exploiting that environment if he is re-elected than he was when he first won election as an outsider.
The ebbing of the Covid-19 pandemic and resumption of travel flows have helped stir a global migrant crisis, with millions of Venezuelans and Central Americans fleeing turmoil and Africans arriving in Latin American countries before continuing their journey north. Amid the record numbers of migrants at the southern border and beyond it in cities like New York and Chicago, voters are frustrated and even some Democrats are calling for tougher action against immigrants and pressuring the White House to better manage the crisis.
Mr. Trump and his advisers see the opening, and now know better how to seize it. The aides Mr. Trump relied upon in the chaotic early days of his first term were sometimes at odds and lacked experience in how to manipulate the levers of federal power. By the end of his first term, cabinet officials and lawyers who sought to restrain some of his actions — like his Homeland Security secretary and chief of staff, John F. Kelly — had been fired, and those who stuck with him had learned much.
In a second term, Mr. Trump plans to install a team that will not restrain him.
Since much of Mr. Trump’s first-term immigration crackdown was tied up in the courts, the legal environment has tilted in his favor: His four years of judicial appointments left behind federal appellate courts and a Supreme Court that are far more conservative than the courts that heard challenges to his first-term policies.
The fight over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals provides an illustration.
DACA is an Obama-era program that shields from deportation and grants work permits to people who were brought unlawfully to the United States as children. Mr. Trump tried to end it, but the Supreme Court blocked him on procedural grounds in June 2020.
Mr. Miller said Mr. Trump would try again to end DACA. And the 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court that blocked the last attempt no longer exists: A few months after the DACA ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Mr. Trump replaced her with a sixth conservative, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has more than kept up with his increasingly extreme agenda on immigration.
His stoking of fear and anger toward immigrants — pushing for a border wall and calling Mexicans rapists — fueled his 2016 takeover of the Republican Party. As president, he privately mused about developing a militarized border like Israel’s, asked whether migrants crossing the border could be shot in the legs and wanted a proposed border wall topped with flesh-piercing spikes and painted black to burn migrants’ skin.
As he has campaigned for the party’s third straight presidential nomination, his anti-immigrant tone has only grown harsher. In a recent interview with a right-wing website, Mr. Trump claimed without evidence that foreign leaders were deliberately emptying their “insane asylums” to send the patients across America’s southern border as migrants. He said migrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” And at a rally on Wednesday in Florida, he compared them to the fictional serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter, saying, “That’s what’s coming into our country right now.”
Mr. Trump had similarly vowed to carry out mass deportations when running for office in 2016, but the government only managed several hundred thousand removals per year under his presidency, on par with other recent administrations. If they get another opportunity, Mr. Trump and his team are determined to achieve annual numbers in the millions.