President-elect Donald Trump — who repeatedly pledged during his campaign that he will round up 11 million undocumented immigrants for deportation and force Mexico to pay for the construction of a “beautiful” border wall—said on Sunday that he’s sticking to the central tenets of his anti-immigrant platform.
During a “60 Minutes” interview that aired this weekend, Trump said he plans to deport “criminal immigrants” and will consider fencing in addition to a solid wall to divide the southern U.S.- Mexico border.
When host Lesley Stahl asked Trump whether he would accept fencing instead of a wall, Trump responded that he would “for certain areas.”
LESLEY STAHL: They’re talking about a fence in the Republican Congress, would you accept a fence?
DONALD TRUMP: For certain areas I would, but certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction.
LESLEY STAHL: So part wall, part fence?
DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, it could be — it could be some fencing.
House Republicans are set to meet with Trump’s transition team to discuss a cost-effective plan for border security, including the use of double fencing along some parts of the southern border. One House Republican aide and a Department of Homeland Security official previously told Reuters that a wall was unrealistic given that “it would block visibility for border agents and cut through rugged terrain, as well as bodies of water and private land.”
Sunday’s comments help to clarify a more definitive outline of Trump’s border plan since his victory. Major news outlets pointed to his comments as evidence that Trump has softened his immigration stance.
A Reuters headline blared that Trump “softens promise of border wall,” noting that he “backed away from his promise to build a wall.” The Associated Press said Trump’s border wall plan “showed signs of cracking” because the president-elect said that he would accept fencing in places “where he had promised to build a wall.” Fox News similarly said Trump “appeared to back off” his plan to build a solid border wall.
But it’s important to remember that Trump is still promising to deport millions of immigrants and build up enforcement along the southern border.
Trump has been unrelentingly clear about his pledge to deport at least two to three million undocumented immigrants — including immigrants who are “criminal and have criminal records” — before he makes a “determination” on the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, whom he calls “terrific people.”
LESLEY STAHL: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants?
DONALD TRUMP: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.
After the border is secure and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that — But before we make that determination — Lesley, it’s very important, we are going to secure our border.
But immigrants who are “criminal and have criminal records,” as Trump references, don’t make up such a straightforward category.
Many immigrants designated as “criminals” are unable to avoid that label because of their immigration status. Only 12 states currently allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, leaving many people to risk breaking the law every time they drive. A pair of harsh federal immigration laws passed in 1996 forces immigrants to retain that “criminal” label —and even after they serve prison sentences, immigrants are handed over to immigration officials for potential deportation proceedings.
“Criminal” immigrants include people like Ched Nin, a Cambodian refugee who has lived in Minnesota since he was six years old. Nin served a nearly two-year prison term, but was detained recently for deportation proceedings. He may soon be deported in spite of turning his life around and having a U.S. citizen wife and children.
Another so-called “criminal” immigrant is Max Villatoro, the pastor of a small Mennonite church in Iowa, who was deported last year despite already serving time for nearly two-decade-old criminal convictions.
Yet another example is Chansa Kapijimpanga, an immigrant from Zimbabwe who came to the United States 16 years ago. After spending 18 months in immigration detention, he routinely checked in with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency until he was suddenly detained in September. Now, Kapijimpanga is now at imminent risk of deportation, according to immigrant advocates who began an online petition for his release. According to the petition, his deportation officer didn’t tell him or his lawyer that his requested stay of removal — a document to stop his deportation — had been denied in May.
“His case is really illustrative of so many of the flaws in our system,” Kristina Shull, a Soros Justice Fellow who’s working with the immigrant advocacy group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), told ThinkProgress.
“If you are an immigrant, you are never really safe in our system.”
That “system” is based on a current Obama administration policy to deport “felons, not families” — a directive that calls on immigration enforcement officials to exercise discretion when they arrest immigrants, prioritizing the people who may have committed serious criminal offenses over those who may have strong ties to their community or children in the country.
Advicates say that Kapi — as he’s known in his community — would fall into the “families” category. As a small business owner in Huntington Beach, California, he employs 14 people. He also has two U.S. citizen children. If he gets deported back to Zimbabwe, he would be “very disconnected from his country of birth and really has no resources or connections,” according to Shull. But he represents a bigger issue with the way the immigration system is currently set up to target millions of different people for removal.
“If you are an immigrant, you are never really safe in our system,” Shull said.
Other players in that system are all too eager for a Trump administration. For-profit private prison stocks rose as much as 60 percent after Trump’s win last Wednesday, recouping some of its losses since this summer with the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would begin to end the use of prisons operated by for-profit companies.