5 Reasons the Trump Immigration Plan Doesn’t Pass the Reality Test
Policy + Politics

5 Reasons the Trump Immigration Plan Doesn’t Pass the Reality Test

If you are a serious candidate for president, one of the things you have to expect is that people will at some point start to take you seriously. Judging from his immigration plan issued last weekend, it’s not clear that real estate tycoon Donald Trump has fully absorbed that fact.

Trump, in a brief written proposal and a series of television interviews, made it clear that he wants to create an enormous force of federal agents dedicated to tracking down and deporting every illegal immigrant in the country. Many would be forced to take their U.S.-born children with them, despite the fact that those children are indisputably U.S. citizens.

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Trump’s plan would require a Constitutional Amendment repealing the birthright citizenship language in the 14th Amendment. It would require the construction of detention centers. It would require a system that could be set up to identify the “good” immigrants who, according to Trump, would be deported and then quickly allowed back into the country.

The plan is breathtaking in its scope. It’s also absurd. Here are 5 key areas in which Trump’s immigration proposals don’t pass the laugh test.

Constitutionality.  Immigration experts looking at Trump’s plan point out that the real estate mogul’s proposal to force more than 12 million people across the U.S. border faces massive legal hurdles. One of highest is that many of the deportees – U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants -- are actually U.S. citizens.

“He’s incoherent and probably doesn’t know what he’s saying,” said attorney Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, which advocates for illegal immigrants. “You can’t deport a citizen…. What he’s suggesting is the kind of ‘self-deportation’ that Mitt Romney advocated for. You’re indirectly deporting the U.S. citizen as well because they have to follow their parents.”

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Vargas said Trump’s plan would also run into constitutional problems because of the intrusiveness of any system that purports to be able to identify every single undocumented immigrant in the country. “The legality of identifying and rounding up everybody is a real problem,” said Vargas. “At the end of the day it’s just Donald Trump. His immigration position from the beginning was bordering on comical.”

The Price Tag.  Setting aside Constitutional objections to Trump’s plan, U.S. taxpayers would still have to reckon with the cost of tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, as well as the financial side effects of the involuntary relocation of millions of people and families.

The conservative American Action Forum, headed by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, estimated the cost of tracking down, apprehending, and detaining every undocumented immigrant in the country, and preventing additional illegal immigration.

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It would cost somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion. It would also take 20 years. For someone who prides himself on his deal-making prowess, said Vargas, Trump’s plan is puzzling. “It makes no sense,” he said. “That’s the worst deal that the American people can get.”

Economic Impact.  In addition to the direct costs associated with orchestrating the mass deportation of some 12 million people, the Trump plan would also have a huge – and disastrous – impact on the U.S. economy. According to Holtz-Eakin’s analysis, the impact of the plan would be to slash the U.S. labor force by 6.4 percent. The damage to the overall economy would be a decline in GDP growth of roughly 5.7 percent per year – about $1.6 trillion over 20 years.

The forced removal of undocumented immigrants could also have the perverse effect of worsening the federal deficit. Estimates from the Social Security Administration and the CBO suggest that at least 50 percent of undocumented immigrants pay federal taxes. Since the population does not frequently use all social services, the loss in tax revenue associated with removing them from the country would cause the federal deficit to grow,” the study found.

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“Not only would it cost the public fiscally, but it would also greatly burden the economy,” Holtz-Eakin concluded.

Authority to Act.  There is no way President Trump could get legislative approval for such a controversial and unprecedented effort, with Democrats, libertarian and moderate Republicans in the House and Senate certain to block any bill sent by the new Republican administration.

That would leave only one other course of action for Trump: to exercise the granddaddy of all executive orders instructing the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, the FBI, immigration officials and all other hands on deck to implement a master plan of identifying, arresting, detaining and deporting illegal immigrants and their families.

As President Obama learned the hard way, controversial executive orders are subject to congressional review and legal challenges. Republicans in Congress tried unsuccessfully to deny spending to implement Obama’s executive order protecting five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Yet when that failed, GOP state officials and their allies on Capitol Hill challenged the order in federal court, where Obama’s immigration policy has been languishing for months.

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Trump can expect a blizzard of legal challenges from Democrats, immigrant and constitutional rights groups and other challenging the constitutionality of the new president’s actions.

Prison Camps.  Franklin Roosevelt is one of the nation’s most revered president’s, but even his reputation was tarnished in the midst of World War II for sending as many as 120,000 Japanese Americans to detention centers on the Pacific coast as a security measure.

Trump would have to build far more detention centers to hold and feed and care for millions of illegal immigrants who presumably would be rounded up by federal and state police forces and placed under lock and key. But a Trump administration would have no viable template to follow in setting up the detention centers. And however Trump ultimately decided to proceed, he would face a public relations nightmare as the media probed for examples of mistreatment of the vast number of men, women and children crammed into the holding pens.

The Obama administration struggled to cope with a much smaller immigration crisis – the flood of thousands of mothers and children from Mexico and Central America who illegally crossed into this country last year and were taken into custody. In June, a harried Homeland Security Department announced it would end long-term detention of those illegal immigrants, instead releasing them on bond after they passed preliminary interviews.