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Memo: Trump’s Mass-Deportation Plan is the Central Immigration Focus of His 2024 Campaign and Should Be Covered That Way

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During an election year with a dizzying volume of immigration news, the most consequential related storyline is the central campaign promise from Donald Trump, which is backed by prominent voices in Congress: to deploy American troops in American communities to conduct a massive roundup, detention and purge of immigrants who have lived in America for decades, including Dreamers. This mass deportation would rip apart American families, communities, and the economy in a way that impacts people across the country regardless of immigration status or direct connections to the foreign-born. We should take this mass deportation promise seriously and devote renewed attention to this potential catastrophe in the weeks and months ahead.

  1. The Plan is Ready: if there is an idea that is consistently embraced and repeated by Trump, his surrogates, and allies it is the idea of mass deportation. It is not just a “talking point” but a policy proposal backed up by a plan. We should take it seriously. 
  2. The Deportations Would Be Unsparing: “No one is off the table” and that includes Dreamers, TPS holders, essential workers, and long-settled residents.
  3. The Economic Toll Would Be Vast: vital American industries would be gutted with untold ripple effects, while millions of homeowners, entrepreneurs, essential workers, healthcare providers, and teachers would be uprooted from U.S. communities. 
  4. Americans Reject this Extremism: Trump’s plan is politically toxic and in direct conflict with the American public’s demand for a common sense and balanced immigration approach that includes both an orderly border and efforts to legalize, not deport, long-settled immigrants, including Dreamers.

Point 1: The Plan is Ready 

While Trump used similar rhetoric and deportation promises during his first campaign and his first term, we fear a potential Trump second administration would be prepared to actually enact this dystopian vision. Trump himself has detailed the specifics at rallies and in his recent Time magazine interview, and that is combined with detailed comments by Stephen Miller and the chilling details of the Heritage Foundation’s “Project 2025” (see Niskanen Center analysis here). The mass deportation plans are designed to stoke fear and are ready to start being implemented on day one of a second term.

And those specific details are chilling (for additional details, see Ron Brownstein in The Atlantic here and Michelle Hackman and Andrew Restuccia in the Wall Street Journal here). As journalist Radley Balko recently described about Stephen Miller, he “plans to bring in the National Guard, state and local police, other federal police agencies like the DEA and ATF, and if necessary, the military. Miller’s deportation force would then infiltrate cities and neighborhoods, going door to door and business to business in search of undocumented immigrants. He plans to house the millions of immigrants he wants to expel in tent camps along the border, then use military planes to transport them back to their countries of origin.” As Will Bunch noted in a Philadelphia Inquirer column “Team Trump isn’t kidding about deporting millions if the ex-POTUS returns in 2025. It would destroy America, morally and economically.”

Another consequence to consider is that diverting so many law enforcement resources towards the removal of immigrants would dilute other law enforcement priorities and will erode trust in local police among vulnerable communities. The result is that public safety could be threatened in communities across the country. 

Point 2: The Deportations Would Be Unsparing

Notably, the promised roundups and deportations wouldn’t just be directed at the newer asylum seekers and migrants that have been flashpoints over the past two years, but also against Dreamers and others comprising the long-settled undocumented population – the 11 million. A recent DHS report found that 80% of that population has been living in the United States since at least 2010. 

From Dreamers to mixed-status families to long-settled undocumented homeowners and business owners deeply embedded in America, the Trump deportation vision is unsparing. In the Time story, former acting ICE Director Tom Homan confirmed the sweeping vision, noting: “People need to be deported…No one should be off the table.”

The prospect of hostile troops from red states rolling down the boulevards of blue cities, suburbs, and rural areas to forcibly remove millions of our neighbors, friends, teachers, and coworkers ought to be a persistent question posed to every candidate for every office – do you support this mass deportation vision? Members of Congress, including Speaker Mike Johnson, are talking openly about their support for mass deportation. Even Sen. Marco Rubio, once a champion of legalization, now supports Trump’s mass deportation scheme. Countless other candidates are appearing on the November ballot who have yet to answer their views on whether they too support the full scope of Trump’s mass deportation vision. 

Point 3: The Economic Toll Would Be Vast

If Trump’s mass deportations proceeded, vital American industries would be gutted with untold ripple effects, while millions of homeowners, entrepreneurs, essential workers, healthcare providers, and teachers would be uprooted from U.S. communities.

In a Washington Monthly column, “Trump’s Plans for Mass Deportation Would Be an Economic Disaster,” Robert Shapiro, former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, focused on the economic catastrophe Trump’s plans would inflict on all Americans, noting: 

a policy that eliminated 4.5 percent of the current workforce, including large numbers of college and high school graduates, would set off serious economic tremors. Using Okun’s Law on the relationship between rising unemployment and GDP, a 4.5 percent drop in employment is associated with depressing GDP growth by more than 9 percentage points. This estimate also includes the impact on other jobs. A recent study of much more modest programs to deport immigrants found clear evidence that they cost other American jobs. By one calculation, deporting 1 million immigrants would lead to 88,000 additional employment losses by other Americans, suggesting that Trump’s program could cost up to 968,000 Americans their jobs on top of the 7.1 million jobs held by immigrants up for deportation … Using the latest DHS estimates, the taxpayer costs to deport 11 million people would come to $265 billion—without including their American children or the costs to build and maintain large detention camps. For perspective, $265 billion is equivalent to 11 percent of all projected income tax revenues in 2024 and 30 percent of the Pentagon’s 2024 budget.”

George Mason University economist Michael A. Clemens argues that the promises being made to American workers of higher wages and available jobs if immigrants are removed are out of step with economic reality:   

“The immigrants being targeted for removal are the lifeblood of several parts of the US economy. Their deportation will instead prompt US business owners to cut back or start fewer new businesses, in some cases shifting their investments to less labor-intensive technologies and industries, while scaling back production to reflect the loss of consumers for their goods.”

Consider how deeply ingrained immigrants, including undocumented or temporarily documented immigrants, are in our economy. Just to name a few: 

Of course, every state and locality would have their own industries impacted – as several excellent regional stories have highlighted (for example, read the Miami Herald, “Trump’s mass-deportation plan would have big economic consequences for South Florida” and from the Minnesota Star Tribune, “A promised immigration crackdown if Trump wins re-election could cripple Minnesota’s workforce.”) 

Point 4: Americans Reject this Extremism

The mass deportation of long-settled immigrants is unpopular with the American public and would be acutely so in reality. Frustrated with the broken immigration status quo, Americans want action on immigration and are concerned about maintaining an orderly border. Additionally, immigration issues have risen in salience, driven in large part due to Republican voters’ sentiments.

Yet, the strong majority of the public supports a balanced immigration approach instead of enforcement-only alternatives, let alone mass deportation. In particular, the public supports policies that would legalize and support long-established immigrants, such as Dreamers, TPS holders, mixed-status family members, and the spouses of U.S. citizens, rather than deporting them (see here for a detailed roundup of American public opinion on immigration showing support for a balanced approach, and read this recap of Republican primary exit polls showing consistent pro-legalization sentiment among segments of the GOP electorate outside the MAGA base).

Imagine the outcry of Americans who will see families, neighbors, and friends being ripped apart from their communities. Imagine the families who will lose their main breadwinners and the social, emotional, and economic fallout of such an approach. As Suzanne Gamboa and Joe Murphy of MSNBC write:

  • There are about 20 million people in households with mixed immigration statuses
  • There are about 825,000 undocumented children who are 17 years and younger in the U.S., according to the data.
  • Additionally, there are more than 3.4 million undocumented immigrants in the country with U.S.-born children younger than 18.

Americans would be repulsed by the authoritarian scenes of troops separating families. The visceral reaction across ideologies against Trump’s family separation during his first term provides the best model.    


Trump’s plans for mass-deportation are morally abhorrent, economically devastating, and politically disastrous for his campaign and his party. The more people hear about them – the more they take the threats of mass deportation seriously – the more Americans will be repulsed. 

For Democrats, this can be a unifying message. The conflict between talking tough on the border and supporting legal immigration and legal status for immigrants can be difficult to manage, but the clear and ugly visions of a Trump second term present the opportunity to make plain the extreme and radical plan the GOP is embracing. Democrats need to consistently and repeatedly call out the extremism – and the extreme consequences of – mass deportation. Political observers should take it seriously and it should be the central immigration focus of the 2024 campaign.

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