(Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“Donald Trump says he’d deport 16 million people. How do you even begin to quantify that?”
— Hillary Clinton campaign, post on Twitter, Oct. 23, 2016

This tweet, and an accompanying Web ad, by the Clinton campaign claimed that Trump says he would deport 16 million people. Cracking down on illegal immigration is one of Trump’s main campaign promises, one he has made since his June 2015 announcement speech. Trump has vowed to deport people living in the United States illegally, but he has wavered on exactly how many. The undocumented population is estimated at about 11 million people so how does the Clinton campaign add up to 16 million? We checked their math.

The Facts

Part of the difficulty with fact-checking Trump based on his words and promises is that Trump often makes contradictory statements or speaks in vague terms that leave room for interpretation.

Trump said on multiple occasions during his presidential campaign that he would deport people who are living in the country illegally. Earlier in his campaign, he indicated he would round up the 11 million undocumented people “in a humane way” and deport them. Then later, he said he would prioritize some of them.

“If they’ve done well, they’re going out and they’re coming back in legally. . . . We’re rounding ’em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they’re going to be happy because they want to be legalized. And, by the way, I know it doesn’t sound nice. But not everything is nice,” Trump said in September 2015 on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” when asked what he would do with the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

In November 2015, Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely.”

Throughout the primaries, Trump repeated that all illegal immigrants “have to go” and “will go out” and that “some will come back, the best, through a process.” He praised the Eisenhower-era “Operation Wetback,” an aggressive federal effort (named after an offensive word for Mexicans) to remove illegal Mexican immigrants from the Southwest.

Then, in August 2016, it seemed as though Trump was changing his mind on deportations. Trump assembled a panel of Hispanic advisers, who wanted him to reconsider his stance on mass deportations. His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, had said that Trump’s stance on mass deportations was “to be determined.”

On Aug. 31, 2016, Trump delivered a major immigration speech and clarified that under his presidency, all people in the country illegally would be subject to deportations but that he would prioritize certain removals including visa overstays and “criminal aliens,” who are noncitizens convicted of crimes. Trump still left room for deporting all 11 million: “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.”

Trump’s deportation priorities announced Aug. 31 would target between 5 million and 6.5 million undocumented immigrants for swift removal, according to The Washington Post’s analysis.

Interestingly, in 2012, Trump had a different view on deporting undocumented immigrants, CNN’s KFile found. Trump said in a June 2012 interview with CNBC that he was “probably down the middle on that” and that “I also understand how, as an example, you have people in this country for 20 years, they’ve done a great job, they’ve done wonderfully, they’ve gone to school, they’ve gotten good marks, they’re productive — now we’re supposed to send them out of the country, I don’t believe in that.”

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told PolitiFact: “Mr. Trump’s plan does not call for deporting 16 million. It says we will deal with those who are not priorities at a later date.”

To add up to 16 million, the Clinton campaign is including U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. In 2010, there were 4.5 million people who were born in the United States to parents who arrived illegally, according to the Pew Research Center.

Trump has suggested he would deport families with undocumented parents and U.S.-born children. This is from an August 2015 interview on “Meet the Press”:

Trump: “We have to make a whole new set of standards. And when people come in, they have to come in legally — 
Host Chuck Todd: “So you’re going to split up families?”
Trump: “Chuck.”
Todd: “You’re going to deport children — 
Trump: “Chuck. No, no. We’re going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together.”
Todd: “But you’re going to keep them together out — 
Trump: “But they have to go. But they have to go.”

Trump also has said that he believes it is wrong for the children of illegal immigrants (also referred to as “anchor babies”) to automatically receive citizenship if they are born in the United States. He said he would “test it out in the courts” because he thought he could make a case that “they do not have American citizenship.” (He said he might make an exception if a child had parents who are “very bad people.”) But as we have noted before, most scholars say a change in birthright citizenship would require a constitutional amendment.

In an earlier version of Trump’s immigration plan, he proposed ending birthright citizenship, PolitiFact found. “This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration,” the plan read. Birthright citizenship is no longer mentioned in his current immigration proposal, and he did not address it in his August 2016 immigration speech.

So, bottom line: It’s not entirely clear what Trump’s actual, current plan is for children of undocumented parents. The Trump campaign did not respond to our request to clarify his stance on birthright citizenship and to address whether he would deport 16 million people.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to our request for any clear evidence that Trump would deport all 4.5 million U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

The Pinocchio Test

Trump presented his most coherent and comprehensive proposal for deportations during his Aug. 31, 2016, speech on immigration policy. He said that all 11 million are subject to deportation but that he would prioritize the removal of some of the illegal population. According to The Post’s analysis, Trump would prioritize about half of the roughly 11 million population for swift removal.

To add up to the 16 million in the tweet and video, the Clinton campaign adds the 4.5 million U.S.-born children of undocumented parents. The children automatically receive citizenship because they were born in the United States. Trump’s concrete plan on the 4.5 million children is unclear. In August 2015, Trump has suggested that he would deport families the parents and their children if the parents were in the country illegally. He also has called for an end to birthright citizenship.

But it’s a mystery if this is still Trump’s current stance. He didn’t mention it in his Aug. 31 speech, and his campaign has not clarified, either. So without a clear sense of his stance on the deportation of U.S.-born children of undocumented parents, Clinton’s tweet and video are spinning Trump’s words and stance out of context. We award Two Pinocchios.

Two Pinocchios

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