820,000 illegal criminals instead of Trump’s 2 million

Trump has pledged a greater focus on removal of unauthorized immigrants with criminal records. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are 820,000 illegal residents [out of 11 million] that are deportable for criminal convictions. There are another million of legal non-citizen residents [out of about 33 million] subject to deportation for criminal convictions. Trump tends to group these together as all illegals.

Large-scale enforcement requires close coordination between local police enforcement and DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Much higher rates of deportation will require substantially greater federal funding, including more courts, but the biggest constraint is local law enforcement (not political) ambivalence about demands on police and corrections resources and an inherent conflict with community policing goals. This does mean that it can’t be done.


Drawing upon MPI’s analysis of the 3.7 million deportations that occurred between fiscal years (FY) 2003 and 2013, which looked at the most serious criminal conviction for deportees, we further estimated who among the 820,000 unauthorized immigrants convicted of a crime would be priorities for removal under current DHS policy. We determined that 300,000 of these likely have a felony conviction and another 390,000 are serious misdemeanants.

[Generally speaking, felonies involve incarceration for more than one year. Typical misdemeanors include petty theft, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, vandalism, reckless driving, discharging a firearm within city limits, possession of cannabis.]

These 820,000 unauthorized immigrants are a subset of the 1.9 million noncitizens identified by DHS [in 2012] as removable criminal aliens, in other words noncitizens identified for deportation from the United States based on a criminal conviction.
A very substantial portion of these 1.9 million noncitizens are people lawfully present in the United States who have become deportable as the result of a disqualifying crime.


The immigration enforcement system has already been recalibrated in recent years to focus on criminals. Convicted criminals accounted for 59% of 235,000 removals in FY 2015. [Deportations have been about 370,000 on average under the Obama administration. Most were criminals.]

Secure Communities, launched in 2008, used fingerprint data to check the immigration status of all arrestees and issue detainers to local law enforcement agencies to hold individuals for ICE to take into custody.

In response to a significant backlash from communities across the United States, the Obama administration in July 2015 replaced Secure Communities with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), intended to be tailored to the priorities of local jurisdictions. PEP limits ICE issuance of detainers to local law enforcement agencies only for noncitizens who have been convicted of a crime or represent a public-safety risk, consistent with the priorities of the local jurisdiction.

DHS is funded to identify, detain, and deport about 400,000 unauthorized immigrants annually. The current administration largely met that number in FY 2009-12 before tailoring its prosecutorial discretion guidelines to focus more fully on criminals and other public-safety threats, recent border crossers, and people with outstanding deportation orders.

The Trump campaign has said that it will restore Secure Communities, which allowed ICE to ask all local law enforcement agencies to hold for removal any noncitizens who were deportable, whether convicted or not.

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