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Trump’s Mass Deportation Plans: Why 2025 Will Be Different

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Written by David Leopold

The restraints held back the worst excesses that soiled the previous promises of mass deportation will no longer be in place.   

During Donald Trump’s first campaign, he repeatedly vowed to deport all undocumented immigrants. For example, in June of 2015, he told CNN’s Dana Bash, “We will find them, we will get them out…It’s feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don’t know how to manage.”

In 2017, when Trump became president, it was clear his mass deportation rhetoric would be tempered by the rule of law.  For mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants to become a reality, Trump was going to have to overcome the administrative and judicial processes in place which provide for review of deportation orders, e.g. due process.  Most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. would at least be protected by the legal intricacies of the removal process, providing noncitizens with the right to administrative and judicial review.  Non-citizens in immediate danger of deportation were, for the most part, limited to those who’d already been through the deportation process and found themselves at the wrong end of a final removal order.  And, as anticipated, over the course of the first Trump administration, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) focused its enforcement apparatus on undocumented immigrants subject to final orders of removal who’d exhausted their appellate rights.  Drab, windowless ERO waiting rooms across the U.S. were filled with predominantly Latina mothers affixed with ankle monitors waiting to be processed for removal amid the din of crying U.S. citizen babies and toddlers.  

As viciously anti-immigrant as the Trump administration was, in the end, the rule of law and the courts had restrained most of Trump’s mass deportation scheme.

Fast forward to January 2025.  

If Trump gets a second term in the White House he will not be so restrained.  Trump loyalists like Stephen Miller learned valuable lessons during Trump’s first term about how to rig and control the government.  According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2025 Project, they intend to rid the federal administrative agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, of anyone who’s not a reliable Trump sycophant.  In other words, this time, there will be no “grown-ups” in the room to restrain Trump on immigration, regardless of the legality of the proposed immigration enforcement scheme.  During Trump’s first term, the courts, in many cases but not always, forced Trump to stop or temper some of his most extreme anti-immigrant policy initiatives including, the First Muslim Ban, Child Separation and Trump’s intended assaults on so-called “Sanctuary Cities.”  

But, we cannot count on the courts this time. If another Trump presidency emerges,  the country won’t have the luxury of having public servants in place who will say “no” to policies that violate the law, leaving little, if any, internal restraint in the agencies.  As bad as things were during Trump’s chaotic first term, there were public servants in the federal (and state) agencies who had the moral courage to thwart some of his dangerously extremist plans.  But “disloyal” public servants will be removed and replaced with Trump sycophants on Day 1.  Nor will the American people be able to rely on an independent judiciary to impose the rule of law. 

During his first term, Trump, with the help of a compliant U.S. Senate, populated the court – in particular the U.S. Supreme Court – with Trump loyalists ready, willing and able to do his bidding. That became even more jarringly clear during the oral arguments on Trump’s immunity case. The consequences of a politicized judiciary, particularly for undocumented immigrants, will be catastrophic. It’s not difficult to imagine immigration enforcement agents, working in tandem with their red-state (think Texas) counterparts, deporting people (including U.S. citizens caught in the chaos) across the border to Mexico without so much as a thought about their due process rights. Those families removed unlawfully may be able to return but only after long, expensive battles in the U.S. courts. Those who doubt that the Trump administration would act without regard to the law or court rulings are well advised to recall January 6, 2021.

As Ron Brownstein reported, Miller, who will be in charge of the immigration agenda again already has detailed plans for how the deportation operation will unfold. It’s alarming – and chilling. In an article titled, “Trump’s ‘Knock on the Door’: The former president and his aides are formulating plans to deport millions of migrants,”  Brownstein explained:

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.

No doubt, this is Miller’s obsession and he won’t let anyone or anything like the rule of law stand in his way.

At the Washington Post, Philip Bump took a dive into what mass deportation might look like:

Imagine police going door-to-door in Queens, trying to determine whether the person with whom they are speaking is a citizen and, if not, whether that person is waiting for adjudication of their asylum claims or have U.S.-born kids. Imagine that person being arrested, put into a van, as the officer moves three buildings down the block or two floors up in the same apartment building. Imagine this happening in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Denver, Atlanta. Imagine the outcry on social media, from neighbors, from employers. 

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that Trump advisors are planning an unprecedented mass deportation targeting 20 million people starting immediately after Trump takes the oath of office. According to the WSJ the scheme:

[W]ould require coordination at every level of government, as well as the military. Advisers are eyeing military bases for expanded detention capacity and making plans to deputize red-state governors to deploy National Guard troops to add to the ranks of immigration officers making arrests. The former president and his advisers are also discussing using local and state law enforcement to aid the effort. 

The outcry would be intense. But, that might be a little too late. From every indication we’ve seen and heard, Trump, Miller and their red-state army will not be deterred or impeded. They’re not hiding it. In fact, they repeatedly make that abundantly clear. 

When we see 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, we must understand that isn’t hyperbole. They mean it. “The topic on which Trump had the most concrete details is his plan to deport many millions of undocumented immigrants.” wrote CNN in their coverage of a recent in-depth interview of Trump for Time

On November 16, 2016, days after Trump was elected President of the United States, journalist Masha Gessen warned in her prescient piece “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” that when an autocrat speaks he means what he says.  Americans, Gessen wrote, will not be able to rely on our democratic institutions for salvation because they can fail or be co-opted. In the end it’s up to us to defend our democratic values.

Never were these warnings more powerful (and chilling) than they are today. And, anyone who doesn’t think Trump, Miller and their allies don’t mean what they say is deluding themselves. A delusion the country cannot afford to indulge.