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Trump’s 2025 Immigration Agenda

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On February 29, Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign released a new ad that began with a statement he made when he first announced his campaign back in June of 2015, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.” Since then, Trump has transformed the Republican Party into a white nationalist entity that mirrors his racist, dangerous rhetoric about immigrants. 

As Donald Trump is all but the Republican Presidential nominee, it is worth taking a closer look at what he and his allies have promised to do on immigration if he wins a second term. 

One of the primary tenets of Donald Trump’s first term immigration agenda was cruelty to immigrants: From the Muslim ban to child separation, Trump and his team, led by white nationalist Stephen Miller, used their power to inflict harm on immigrants while undermining and chipping away at the few legal immigration channels that exist. Trump has promised to take his anti-immigrant and nativist assault to a new level of chaos and discrimination in a second term. He proudly and frequently invokes his plans for the “largest domestic deportation operation in American history” as he and his party, as well as right wing media have fully adopted conspiratorial white nationalist rhetoric.  

This is a frequent topic of conversation at Trump’s speeches and right-wing media interviews. 

At CPAC on February 23, Miller, who is Trump’s top immigration advisor, laid out their agenda: “The simple part is seal the border and deport all the illegals.” He also listed off several other items on their agenda. “Finish the wall; Remain in Mexico policy; … establish large-scale staging grounds for removal flights; deputize the National Guard; deploy the military to the southern border,” HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery wrote.

There are probably some who roll their eyes, having heard this rhetoric from Trump and his crew before. Many believe they can survive a second term because they survived his first term. But, what’s very clear is that a potential Trump second term won’t be anything like the first time. The plans are already in place and it’s chilling.

What’s very different and why Trump and his team believe they’ll be more effective this time, were he to win, is that the Heritage Foundation and other right- wing organizations have crafted Project 2025, a 900 page document laying out their agenda. Project 2025 with detailed plans to enact Trump’s promises. 

Project 2025 has become the focal point in understanding headlines like “Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plan” in the New York Times on November 11, 2023, and “Trump and allies planning militarized mass deportations and detention camps” in the Washington Post on February 21, 2024. These pieces offer a glimpse into the ambitious and controversial strategies shaping the future of immigration policy if Trump prevails.

As the Washington Post reported, “Trump has made similar promises and has used inflammatory smears since his 2016 campaign. But he, his aides, and allies say a second turn in office would be more effective in operating the levers of the federal bureaucracy and less vulnerable to internal resistance. During his term, former officials said, Trump learned to install more officials at the Department of Homeland Security who would carry out his orders instead of trying to curb his impulses.”

The Niskanen Center did a deep and thorough analysis of Project 2025, noting “It isn’t simply a refresh of first-term ideas, dusted off and ready to be re-implemented. Rather, it reflects a meticulously orchestrated, comprehensive plan to drive immigration levels to unprecedented lows and increase the federal government’s power to the states’ detriment. These proposals circumvent Congress and the courts and are specifically engineered to dismantle the foundations of our immigration system.”

The Niskanen Center identified the six of the “most troubling” aspects of the plan:

  1. Block federal financial aid for up to two-thirds of all American college students if their state permits certain immigrant groups, including Dreamers with legal status, to access in-state tuition.
  2. Terminate the legal status of 500,000 Dreamers by eliminating staff time for reviewing and processing renewal applications. 
  3. Use backlog numbers to trigger the automatic suspension of application intake for large categories of legal immigration.
  4. Suspend updates to the annual eligible country lists for H-2A and H-2B temporary worker visas, thereby excluding most populations from filling critical gaps in the agricultural, construction, hospitality, and forestry sectors.
  5. Bar U.S. citizens from qualifying for federal housing subsidies if they live with anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
  6. Force states to share driver’s licenses and taxpayer identification information with federal authorities or risk critical funding.

And, the section of Project 2025 dealing with many of the immigration issues was crafted by notoriously anti-immigrant Ken Cuccinelli, who was illegally installed to powerful positions at USCIS and DHS by the Trump administration.

In addition to the policy provisions outlined in Project 2025, Trump and Miller have vowed to stage mass deportations. FOX News’ Laura Ingraham asked Trump on February 20, “How do you plan to deport the millions of people that have come here, and how will it work?” He replied, “It’s gonna work that we get the bad ones out first.” When the FOX host asked, “How will you find them?” Trump said, “We’re gonna find them through local police.”

Writing in The Atlantic in an article titled, “Trump’s ‘Knock on the Door’: The former president and his aides are formulating plans to deport millions of migrants,” Ron Brownstein dove into the proposed deportation plans:

Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, has publicly declared that they would pursue such an enormous effort partly by creating a private red-state army under the president’s command. Miller says a reelected Trump intends to requisition National Guard troops from sympathetic Republican-controlled states and then deploy them into Democratic-run states whose governors refuse to cooperate with their deportation drive.

Miller’s plans for the national guard and Trump’s plan for local police seem far-fetched to some. But Jessica Pishko, who studies right-wing sheriffs and is writing a book on sheriffs and democracy, made an important point when Philip Bump tried to downplay Trump’s ability to put together a deportation force. “Sheriffs can summon anyone they want into their posse, no background check or certification required. Trump has been rallying sheriffs to his cause since 2016!” And many of them have been among his most ardent supporters.

There’s also a historical precedent for mass deportations from the Eisenhower administration:

… the military-style campaign, which used the same slur in its name — “Operation Wetback” — tore families apart and forcibly uprooted people in the name of securing the border, experts say. And sometimes, those efforts turned deadly.

Now, former president Donald Trump is using the Eisenhower-era operation as a blueprint for his vision, which he pledges will be “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history” to remove the estimated 10.5 million undocumented people in the United States — of whom two-thirds have lived in the country for more than a decade.

Writing at Just Security, Katherine Yon Ebright from the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program wrote about Trump’s potential invocation of the Alien Enemies Act to accomplish his deportation goals in a piece titled, “What Should Courts do if a Future President Invokes the Alien Enemies Act to Deport Immigrants?

Former President Donald Trump has promised voters that, if re-elected, he would “immediately” invoke the Alien Enemies Act to effect mass deportations of non-citizens from Mexico. He reportedly plans to apply the law broadly, targeting non‑citizens who are not suspected of any cartel involvement or narcotics trafficking. By using the Alien Enemies Act, a law enacted pursuant to Congress’s constitutional war powers, Trump could conduct the deportations summarily, without any of the hearings or other process typically accorded to non-citizens in peacetime and under immigration law.

As troubling as the prospect of mass, summary deportations may be, reactions to Trump’s proposed use of the Alien Enemies Act have in many cases underestimated the risk at hand.

Ebright examined the risks and the potential to prevent Trump’s use of the law were he to win from changing the law to courts blocking him. But, relying on the Federal Courts is risky, given the vast number of judges Trump appointed – and, of course, the six conservatives on the Supreme Court. 

In November of 2023, The New York Times reported that Trump’s team wants lawyers on board who won’t frustrate his ambitions if he gets another term:

The allies have been drawing up lists of lawyers they view as ideologically and temperamentally suited to serve in a second Trump administration. Their aim is to reduce the chances that politically appointed lawyers would frustrate a more radical White House agenda.

Trump and Miller’s anti-immigrant policies have continued to inflict harm even after leaving the White House. While most of the children separated under the family separation policy were reunited following a 2018 court order, hundreds remain separated due to the Trump administration’s sloppy record-keeping, rapid deportation of parents from the U.S., and general indifference to their suffering. Trump has refused to rule out reinstating this inhumane policy if he returns to power in 2025. While some Republicans condemned the policy at the height of the crisis in summer 2018, today, some have stated they want to see it return.

Georgetown University Professor Thomas Zimmer did a deep dive into Project 2025 at Democracy Americana, titled, “‘Project 2025’ Promises Revenge, Oppression, and Autocratic Rule.” He focused on the introduction to that report from Kevin Roberts, the president of the Heritage Foundation. Roberts noted, “Illegal immigration should be ended, not mitigated; the border sealed, not reprioritized.”

Mass deportations. Massive changes to the federal government. Inciting a climate of fear. Undermining legal immigration. That’s the plan and, this time, Trump, Miller, Cuccinelli and the Heritage Foundation are putting the pieces in place to achieve their goals. They mean it this time.