Good Luck Finding 2 to 3 Million Criminal Alien Deportees: Why Team Trump Needs to Stop Campaigning and Start Governing

For those that tuned into what was likely one of the more anticipated 60 Minutes in recent memory, an airing of Donald Trump’s first interview as President-Elect produced soundbites that were….startlingly similar to the tone of his entire campaign?

No, I don’t speak of the tone that has been characterized as xenophobic or misogynistic. I speak of a tone that remains largely unchanged from a controversial campaign: boastful and more importantly, unsubstantiated. Take the blurb that has plagued this week’s news cycle for example:

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers … probably two million of them, it could be even three … out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate them,”

This is troubling on two levels. The first and most obvious is a lack of truth behind the claim that there are upwards of 3 million criminal aliens in the United States. The second level runs deeper and lies in the incoming administration’s messaging. It’s been a week since T-Day and yet the American citizenry are still hearing things like:

“I’m very good at this. It’s called construction” — On the wall that is now going to be a fence (which already exists…)
“We’re going to substantially simplify and lower the taxes” — On his tax plan that is projected to drop government revenues and somehow fund his infrastructure projects?
“That’s tough” — On the Middle East
“We have some great generals” — On his plan to defeat ISIS (Anyone recall him mentioning he knew more than these very generals during his campaign?)
“They’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them. And I will give you a very, very good and definitive answer the next time we do ’60 Minutes’ together” — On a woman he called “Nasty” and promised to prosecute upon his election

Admittedly, he provided clearer answers on issues like Obamacare, on which he is now waffling his stance, and on his usage of Twitter, that “[he’s going] to do very restrained”, if he uses it at all. But the greater concern still remains: how is it possible that the man transitioning into highest office of the largest economy in the world is still making claims of varying truth and grandiose promises that he doesn’t need to keep now that he’s won? His declaration to deport up to 3 million criminal aliens provides an excellent case study into his campaign’s lack of shifting towards governance.

When the Numbers Don’t Add Up

The ICE ERO, on average, has removed approximately 308,000 criminals aliens from the United States from FY2011 to FY 2015 (397,225,369,316, and 235 thousand). Even if the department’s removals doubled, or even tripled moving forward (because government entities are known for their efficiency), you would still come up woefully short of his number. But let’s give the administration the benefit of a full 4-year term. In that case, ICE ERO would still have to remove, on average, anywhere from 62% to 144% more criminals, to reach the President-Elect’s stated goal of 2 million to 3 million removed criminal aliens. What makes this even less likelier (read: very unlikely) to happen is that ICE removals have been trending downwards(see below) due to the Obama Administration placing a strategic priority on removing aliens convicted of more serious crimes.

Forget over 1 year or 4, the ICE hasn’t even deported 3 million criminal aliens over the course of 8 years

A second perspective must also be considered in the proposed deportation: Are there even enough criminal aliens in the country for Team Trump to deport 3 million of them? According to its FY2013 budget, ICE estimated the number of criminal aliens in the United States to be 1.93M in 2013. Assuming that the proportion of criminals within the illegal immigrant population is unknown but similar to that of the United States (30%), the illegal immigrant population would have had to grow anywhere from 200,000 to 4.6 million people over the past 2 years to have 2 to 3 million criminal aliens for Donald Trump to deport, and that’s assuming he’s somehow capable of deporting every single criminal alien.

Thankfully, we don’t always have to extrapolate from limited data. The Pew Research Center’s data also contradicts the idea of a sharp rise in illegal immigration. In fact, they estimated the unauthorized immigrant population peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, dropped sharply through the recession from 2007–2009, and has buoyed just north of 11 million since then, largely due to offsetting effects of ICE removals on immigrants coming in.

“But he’ll put more money into Homeland Security to get the criminals out!”

According to the DHS’ requested budget for FY2017, it requested $347 million “for the Criminal Alien Program to support ICE in the apprehension and removal of both at-large and incarcerated convicted criminals. These resources include funding for an additional 100 officers to support ICE in this mission area”.

If it costs $347 million to continue hunting down and removing few hundred thousand criminal aliens, where in the world is the country going to find the money needed to remove 2, much less 3 million aliens that may or may not exist? From your tax plan that’s anticipated to drop federal revenues by $9.5T over its first decade? From the $25 billion wall that you’ve now downsized to a fence, much of which is already in existence? From the Affordable Care Act that you vowed to “repeal and replace” but now want to compromise on? Or from the hypothetical West Wing layoffs that you now have to make because you didn’t realize you had to staff the damned thing until you visited the White House?

From Campaigning to Governing

Is it unfair to pick on the incoming administration’s soundbite du jour? Likely yes but also likely no when you consider how representative the soundbite is to the administration’s greater tone. The greater takeaway here is that the Team Trump cannot continue to transition with the fervor that defined its campaign. That is — covering up one unsubstantiated statement with another. You can only make so many promises reinforced by make-believe math for so long until it comes time to elaborate on how you’re going to implement the policies you’ve been spouting for months — and that time is right now.

Many (read: a majority) of the American voters didn’t want this leader; but an influential sect of this majority has and continues to plead with their fellow voters, just like the Trump Camp, to give the winning campaign a chance. If the American people are going to do so — is it really that unfair to expect the incoming administration to respond with ideas that go beyond the superlatives that got them there?

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