In his first televised sit-down interview as the president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump was asked about deporting undocumented immigrants. He answered that he will prioritize the removal of 2 to 3 million people with criminal records who are “here illegally” — repeating a misleading claim that he used during the campaign. We checked out the facts.
A Trump spokesman pointed to the Department of Homeland Security fiscal 2013 report saying there were 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.”
This figure refers to a broader population of non-U.S. citizens with criminal convictions. It includes people who are in the country illegally, who are lawful permanent residents and who have temporary visas. Lawfully present people in the United States who are convicted of serious crimes are subject to removal.
So Trump is referring to a larger number of noncitizens convicted of crimes, not just those who are “here illegally.”
“The facts just don’t support that [claim]. We know that there are close to 2 million — 1.9 million, precisely — and they are the whole universe of foreign born people” who are convicted of crimes, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University School of Law.
The exact number of illegally present noncitizens within that 1.9 million figure is unclear. Calculations by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank that doesn’t take positions on immigration legislation, show about 820,000 (43 percent) of the 1.9 million are unauthorized immigrants with criminal convictions.
Throughout his campaign, Trump relied on analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, an immigration-restriction organization that seeks to limit both illegal and legal immigration. The group is among three organizations that “stand at the nexus of the American nativist movement” and have ties to John Tanton, who helped found the group and whom the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials.” The Center for Immigration Studies has challenged SPLC’s descriptions of Tanton.
When we fact-checked a similar claim in Trump’s Aug. 31 immigration policy speech, Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, had said most of the 1.9 million figure are undocumented, but she did not provide any specific data. She said it was based on information she received from a DHS source she could not reveal, which we cannot independently verify.
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency “is not able to provide an estimate of the number of illegal aliens presently in the U.S., nor can we confirm the percentage or number of those who have criminal convictions. ICE’s statistics track only those aliens the agency has encountered and/or removed from the U.S.”
The Trump spokesman also said that there are “many more who have committed crimes but fled or were not caught — that number could be astronomical. Closure rates for homicide [the rate at which homicide cases are solved, or “closed”], for instance, only 50 percent, and illegal immigrants are more likely to flee.” We asked for an estimate and a source of the number of illegal immigrants who may have committed homicide and fled, but did not receive a response.
ICE already prioritizes its immigration enforcement on noncitizens who are convicted of aggravated felonies, are in street gangs and are threats to national security. In fiscal 2015, there were 235,413 removals by ICE. Of them, 59 percent (139,368) were convicted criminals.
Even if Trump wants to remove all 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens,” it could take as long as three years, given the backlog in immigration court. There already are immigration cases scheduled into 2019, and just over 500,000 cases pending for fiscal 2017.
“All of those people who are technically removable have constitutional rights — most importantly, the right to due process. They have to be placed in proceedings in an immigration court that is already clogged,” Chishti said.
Another option Trump has laid out is for his secretary of state to invoke authority to discontinue the granting of certain types of visas to countries that refuse to accept undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes. Trump has criticized Hillary Clinton’s State Department for not exercising this authority enough, and has pledged on his first day in office to order the cancellation of visas to the 23 countries (including China and India) which have refused to accept the return of criminal undocumented immigrants. There could be diplomatic consequences if he follows through with his pledge.
The Pinocchio Test
Trump said there are “probably 2 million, it could even be 3 million” people who are convicted of crimes and are in the country illegally. But this is an exaggeration.
The data he is pointing to are of 1.9 million noncitizens who are convicted of crimes and are subject to removal. These noncitizens include people who are here illegally, are here on temporary visas or are lawful permanent residents. People who are lawfully in the United States can be removed if they are convicted of serious crimes. An independent think tank that analyzes immigration policy estimated that more than half of the 1.9 million people are convicted criminals who are not U.S. citizens, but lawfully in the country.
Previously, Trump used the 2 million figure but did not say all 2 million were in the country illegally. We awarded Two Pinocchios, because he stated it as fact without the caveats. This time, Trump went further by saying the 2 million are “here illegally,” and that there “could be even 3 million.” We award him Three Pinocchios for distorting the facts further, even though we already pointed out the flaws with his use of the statistic.
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