Trump's big immigration speech doubles down on frightening policies

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After 14 months of campaigning on platitudes, Donald Trump finally tried to add some substance to his immigration policy on Wednesday night with a lengthy speech that laid out a 10-point plan to "make America safe again."

Trump's plan touched on border security, law enforcement and ISIS, but failed to answer fundamental questions about how his government would pay for its proposed border wall or the removal of 11 million undocumented immigrants—two central pillars of his campaign.


Instead, Trump's speech focused mostly on laying out new policies designed to amp up border enforcement by increasing the number of agents working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), cracking down on people who overstay their visas, and reviving some old (and mostly failed) policies designed to deport people who have committed crimes.

But for a speech that was hyped as Trump's big explainer, the whole thing fell short. While the policies he outlined would likely result in more deportations, it wouldn't add up to a plan to deport 11 million people in 18-24 months, as he previously promised.


Trump didn't even clarify his position on a so-called "deportation force." During the primary Trump spoke favorably of Dwight Eisenhower's barbaric deportation policy, known as "Operation Wetback," which relied on such deportation forces to round up and deport immigrants. Trump went so far as to tell MSNBC last year that his policy would include a similar type of deportation force that would be "focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal aliens in America."

Yet over the past few weeks the Trump campaign has waffled on that commitment. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said in an interview that the inclusion of a deportation force in Trump's policy was "TBD." Other Trump surrogates meanwhile say the Republican candidate's policy remains unchanged.

On Wednesday Trump explained how he would square that circle. He promised to create a "deportation task force" within ICE, but said the force would focus on undocumented immigrants who are criminals. In other words, Trump does plan on creating some kind of deportation force, but only as part of his existing policy to crack down on undocumented people who have committed crimes, which is not unlike the Obama administration's "felons not families" approach.

Because most undocumented people living in the United States are not criminals, the implication seems to be that those people will not be specifically targeted for deportation.


But there are important differences, too.

Among the more frightening policies is a call to crack down on people who overstay their visas, a policy that, depending on how it is carried out, could increase the risk of deportation for many undocumented people.


Trump also proposed reinstituting the Secure Communities program, a policy that the Obama administration ended in 2014 because it sewed distrust between immigrants and police, and left some immigrants afraid they could face deportation proceedings for something as simple as a broken tail light.

In prototypically Trumpian style, the Republican candidate’s speech somehow managed to give people even more reasons to fear his presidency, while also leaving us with more questions than answers about his plans for America.


Those who stayed up to listen to Trump's full immigration speech on Wednesday night in hopes of clarity most likely went to bed blurry-eyed and confused.

Jorge Rivas is the national affairs correspondent at Fusion. He follows the national conversation through the lens of racial, sexual, and political identity.