Trump Says ICE Will Start Removing “Millions of Illegal Aliens.” Here’s What’s Actually Happening.

Trump Says ICE Will Start Removing “Millions of Illegal Aliens.” Here’s What’s Actually Happening.

Originally published by Mother Jones

On Monday evening, one day before officially launching his reelection bid, President Donald Trump tweeted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will soon begin “the process of removing” millions of undocumented immigrants from the country.

That is not going to happen. ICE doesn’t have anywhere near enough resources to make good on Trump’s threat. But the many headlines repeating Trump’s claim may help the administration achieve its actual goal: creating widespread fear among families considering crossing the border and those who have already done so. Here’s what’s actually going on.

Who is ICE targeting?

Trump’s tweet appears to be referring to a planned ICE operation targeting families who have remained in the United States after receiving deportation orders. Politico reports that the arrests would also target people who have turned 18 since arriving at the border as unaccompanied minors.

It is not clear how many people are in that position, but it’s certainly not millions. Immigrants who are still waiting for their court hearings would not be targeted, although some could be arrested if ICE agents come across them while looking for people on their target lists. 

The plan has been under consideration for months. In April, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and acting ICE Director Ronald Vitiello were pushed out of the Trump administration after blocking a similar operation, citing insufficient preparation and the outrage it would generate. ICE’s new acting director, Mark Morgan, and its deputy director, Matthew Albence, support going after families with deportation orders, as does Stephen Miller, Trump’s most influential immigration adviser.

Trump says he’ll arrest millions. Will he?

No. It’s impossible for ICE agents to arrest millions of people next week.

DHS officials have repeatedly talked about how overwhelmed the agency is. The agency has 6,100 deportation officers working under its Enforcement and Removal Operations wing, which is in charge of apprehending and deporting people in violation of immigration laws in the country. ICE also has about 6,000 agents working under its Homeland Security Investigations unit, which handles criminal investigations, including non-immigrant offenders. Even if you combined all ICE enforcement agents and sent them out to arrest people across the country, they couldn’t apprehend and detain millions of people.

ICE’s arrests last fall were 12 percent fewer than during the same period in 2017, and far under the arrest numbers of previous years. As Mother Jones reported, ICE is on track to arrest fewer than 140,000 immigrants this year, compared to the nearly 300,000 in 2011.

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