When Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, he described Mexican immigrants as “people that have lots of problems,” including drug traffickers, rapists, and other criminals. He graciously added that “some, I assume, are good people.” Last night on 60 Minutes, by contrast, Trump said most undocumented immigrants are “terrific people,” although 2 million or so (about 18 percent) are criminals who need to be locked up or deported. That is no mere change of emphasis, since Trump is no longer talking about deporting all 11 million unauthorized residents of the United States, along with their U.S.-citizen children.
When Lesley Stahl asked Trump about his “pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants,” the president-elect said, “After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about, who are terrific people.” That stance is consistent with the immigration “softening” that Trump mentioned last August. Back then he admitted that some immigrants who live in this country without the government’s permission are “great, great people” and suggested he was open to legalizing them. Although there would be “no citizenship” and “no amnesty as such,” he said, if they “pay back taxes” he would be willing to “work with them.”
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) confirmed that Trump does not intend to carry out the sort of mass deportation he frequently advocated during his campaign. “I’m a person who believes that, for the undocumented, we have to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve mass deportation, that involves giving people the ability to get right with the law to come and earn a legal status while we fix the rest of legal immigration,” Ryan said. “I think we should put people’s minds at ease. That is not what our focus is. That is not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on securing the border….We are not planning on [creating] a deportation force. Donald Trump’s not planning on that.”
If Trump really has given up on deporting all unauthorized immigrants, he may simply be acceding to reality. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted last July, “Trump’s mass deportation scheme would mean arresting more than 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year.” Even if that were practical, the ACLU observed, “there is no conceivable mechanism to accomplish the roundup that Trump has promised while respecting basic constitutional rights.”