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Donald Trump’s immigration policy, explained in 600 words

He told America exactly what he wanted to do. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Trump hat
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

If Donald Trump is elected the 45th president of the United States, it won’t be because of his exhaustive policy platform. His agenda for the country was occasionally vague at best.

But no one can pretend that Trump didn’t tell America exactly what he wanted to do on immigration.

From the day he launched his campaign, immigration has been at the focus of his message and his appeal. His policies on the subject have always been a level more developed than everything else on his agenda.

Should Trump win, he’ll arrive in office having spent more than a year under the tutelage of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who was an outspoken opponent of immigration (both legal and unauthorized) back when the rest of the Republican Party was still wrestling with reform. He’s been buoyed on the support of the unions representing Border Patrol officials and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents — who embraced him as the man who would throw off the policy fetters they’ve chafed under through the Obama administration.

President Trump would not be able to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants from the United States, as he once promised to do. But during the campaign, he articulated a policy that could succeed in ramping up immigration enforcement to an extent we’ve never seen before — and that is certainly likely to put the fear of deportation into the hearts of millions of immigrants.

  • The Trump administration would attempt to prevent anyone from crossing the border illegally at all, whether the border wall is real or virtual.
  • The Trump administration would deport more people. He’d triple the US’s existing“deportation force,” which could hypothetically give the government capacity to deport up to 1.2 million people a year.
  • The Trump administration would put any unauthorized immigrant in the US at risk of deportation. He’s delineated particular priorities for whom his agents would try to target first (although those “priorities” cover as many as 6 million of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living here). But whether or not they are explicit priorities, unauthorized immigrants in the US would be at risk of deportation at any time.
  • The Trump administration would make it harder for unauthorized immigrants to live and work in the US, encouraging “self-deportation.” Trump would push Congress to pass a bill requiring all employers in the US to check the legal status of their employees electronically — which would (in theory) dump 8 million unauthorized workers out of jobs and deprive their families of their income.
  • The Trump administration would make it harder for immigrants to come to the US legally. The administration (again, with Congress’s help) would make it harder for American companies to get visas for immigrant workers. Individual immigrants would have to undergo an “extreme vetting” process — something Trump could do, at least in part, with or without Congress’ help.
  • Unauthorized immigrants who left the US would have to wait three or 10 years (or be barred permanently) from applying to reenter legally. Even after that waiting period, they’d be competing with everyone else for fewer slots than are available for immigrants today. And people who’d lived in the US before without papers would be particularly likely to flunk an “extreme vetting” process, because they’d be particularly likely to stay in the US even after their visas expired.

It’s an ambitious agenda — but it still might not be enough. Trump’s ultimate goal is to make (white) Americans feel safe from unauthorized immigration. That might be beyond any president’s power to do.


Watch: The history of immigration policy