The Irrelevance of Deportation

Donald Trump has gone back and forth on the issue of deporting illegal immigrants, and Democrats are accusing him of inconsistency. The Washington Post, for example, headlines: “Trump advisers and allies struggle with deportation specifics.”

Several of Donald Trump’s top campaign advisers and allies on Sunday struggled to explain the Republican presidential nominee’s stance on mass deportation — insisting that he will prioritize undocumented criminals for deportation, but falling short on other details and playing down the scale of his deportation priorities by millions of people.
Trump laid out his priorities during a high-profile immigration policy address on Wednesday in Phoenix, saying he would target for immediate deportation undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes and those who overstayed their visas.

Trump’s purported plan to deport 11 million (or however many) illegal immigrants is the number one ground on which he is denounced as a heartless racist, etc. But in fact, the question of deportation is a vastly overrated part of the immigration debate. Trump is clearly correct to prioritize getting criminals–i.e., those who have committed crimes other than illegal entry and whatever crimes are implied by holding jobs illegally–out of the country, rather than the Obama administration’s catch and release policy.

But the idea that getting rid of millions of illegal immigrants would require house-to-house searches, dedicated trains to the border, etc., is wrong. In fact, all the federal government needs to do is enforce existing laws relating to employment. If a few farmers, contractors and owners of lawn services are sent to jail, the others will take the lesson quickly, and jobs for illegal immigrants will dry up. Most (not all, of course) will then leave the country voluntarily, the same way they came. The government doesn’t need to do anything other than enforce existing laws. This is what Mitt Romney referred to as “self-deportation,” a term that some found offensive for reasons I don’t understand.

Similarly, building the wall that is already required by federal law has symbolic value, and perhaps some practical merit. But interior enforcement is far important. If our laws are enforced, the wall becomes mostly superfluous.

Kellyanne Conway pointed in the right direction when asked about deportation:

“Once you enforce the law, once you get rid of the criminals, once you triple the number of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents, once you secure the Southern border, once you turn off the jobs … and benefits magnet, then we’ll see where we are,” [Conway] said Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week.” “And we don’t know where we’ll be. We don’t know who will be left. We don’t know where they live, who they are. That’s the whole point here, that we’ve actually never tried this.”

I think the Trump campaign could satisfy a lot of voters and eliminate needless confusion if they explain more clearly that deportation is mostly a red herring that will be rendered moot, for the most part, once our existing immigration laws are enforced.