WASHINGTON >> President-elect Donald Trump is starting to sound an awful lot like President Barack Obama on immigration.
In his first postelection interview, Trump said he will focus on deporting criminal immigrants and not everyone living in the United States illegally. Two million or 3 million people could be immediate targets for deportation under this approach, Trump said, providing a likely inflated figure.
And that “big, beautiful wall” at the Mexican border? Trump said he may be amenable to a fence along some parts of the roughly 2,000-mile border.
The softened stance contrasts sharply with Trump’s campaign rhetoric. As a candidate, he called for everyone living in the country illegally to return to their home countries and for Mexico to pay billions of dollars for the wall.
A look at Trump’s shifting immigration stance:
FOCUS ON CRIMINALS
Trump said in an interview with “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday that immigration enforcement will concentrate on criminals.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers,” he said. “We have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million; we are getting them out of our country or we’re going to incarcerate.”
Trump added: “We’re getting them out of our country; they’re here illegally.”
Obama’s Homeland Security Department has operated similarly. Since 2010, criminals comprised more than half of those deported from the U.S. Over his presidency, Obama has overseen the deportation of more than 2.5 million people.
Trump didn’t say Sunday how he will target criminals. He previously has spoken about reviving programs that gave immigration agents access to jails so they could identify people living in the country illegally.
But if Trump does so, local jurisdictions likely will object. Local laws in some places bar cooperation with immigration authorities. And some federal court rulings make it difficult for local jails to hold immigrants beyond their criminal sentences or strictly for immigration violations.
It is even harder to deport criminal immigrants who aren’t incarcerated. Many live in the shadows. Tracking them down would take a lot of time and government money.
Deportation costs average about $12,500 per person, according to a 2011 government estimate.
2 MILLION OR 3 MILLION CRIMINAL IMMIGRANTS
Trump’s estimate of criminals who are in the country illegally is probably much too high.
In 2012, Homeland Security officials estimated some 1.9 million criminal immigrants in the United States who could be deported. But the government didn’t break down how many of those people were in the country legally and how many were here illegally.
A subsequent analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, concluded that only about 820,000 of those people were in the country illegally. The other million or so people had some sort of legal status, including green cards or visas.
Deporting green card holders is possible, though the process can involve lengthy court proceedings.
FENCE vs. WALL
“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” Trump said as he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
He repeated the pledge at almost every rally.
But in his weekend interview, Trump took a more nuanced approach.
In certain areas, Trump said, “it could be some fencing.” Elsewhere, he added, the border wall was still appropriate.
The president-elect didn’t outline where a fence or a wall might fit better. But his willingness to consider fencing marked a considerable concession from his campaign stance.
Border fencing is nothing new. There is fencing along about 650 miles in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, encompassing almost a third of the border.
Under President George W. Bush, Congress authorized $1.2 billion to build hundreds of miles of double-layered fencing. The Congressional Research Service and the Army Corps of Engineers have estimated that the fencing already in place cost the United States about $7 billion.
Any new construction along the border would be a costly and complicated endeavor. Cost estimates of a wall have ranged from $10 billion to $20 billion.
Trump would also face myriad environmental regulations, objections from private land owners and a legally binding 1970 treaty with Mexico that governs structures along the Rio Grande and Colorado River at the Mexican border.