This post is updated with DHS confirmation that the draft memo is legitimate — but that never made its way up the ladder.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump toyed with the idea of deploying a “deportation force” to round up and deport undocumented immigrants. Then he waffled on that proposal for a few months.
On Friday morning, it looked for a moment like it was back again.
The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration has considered dispatching 100,000 National Guard troops to, in AP's words, “round up unauthorized immigrants.”
BREAKING: Trump administration considers mobilizing as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 17, 2017
According to AP, which says it obtained a draft memo:
The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana.
Four states that border on Mexico are included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The White House quickly denied it, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying it's "100 percent not true. It is false. It is irresponsible to be saying this.” Spicer added that there is “no effort” to do this, but the AP report didn't say the effort actually exists — only that it has been considered. And Spicer said he couldn't be certain that it wasn't discussed somewhere within the administration.
This is not true. DHS also confirms it is 100% false https://t.co/MFIJci7XaU
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) February 17, 2017
We now know the draft did exist — in some form. The Department of Homeland Security denies it was written by Secretary John Kelly, as it appears in the memo and as AP reported. (It stands to reason that it was prepared as if Kelly had written it, when in fact he hadn't.) But DHS also tells The Post that the draft memo is real, despite being a “very early, pre-decisional draft that never made it to the secretary.”
In other words, the White House seems to quibble with the idea that this is a proposal actively under consideration, but the memo is legit. Spicer's contention that this was "100 percent not true” doesn't really hold up.
At the same time, the White House doth protest a little too much here. Spicer seemed genuinely peeved that this was being reported, but it's not actually that outlandish an idea next to Trump's rhetoric on this issue. In fact, it sure sounds like what Trump talked about early in his campaign and as recently as November.
As a candidate, Trump at one point said he would deport every illegal immigrant and favorably cited President Dwight D. Eisenhower's controversial “Operation Wetback” as a road map for how to do so — despite the operation being criticized as inhumane.
Trump would later seem to back off that proposal and even appeared to entertain the idea of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legal status for some undocumented immigrants. As with many of Trump's proposals, though, this seemed to change by the day or week, with Trump not offering any firm commitment one way or another. And even as this was happening, his team wasn't totally disowning the idea of a deportation force. Asked about it twice, Kellyanne Conway said “to be determined.”
Shortly after being elected, though, he moved back toward large-scale deportations, telling "60 Minutes” in an interview that he would focus deportation efforts on criminals but also that he would deport between 2 million and 3 million undocumented immigrants — a number that suggests it would go beyond just those criminals. After all, there were only about 11 million total illegal immigrants in the United States as of 2014, according to Pew. But Trump has wagered that there may actually be more and has accused a large percentage of them of being dangerous criminals, despite evidence to the contrary.
So the operating assumption has been that Trump would move to deport millions of illegal immigrants. The question was how he would make it happen, given the scale of operations required to deport one out of every four undocumented immigrants in this country. And in that context, a deportation force of 100,000 National Guard troops seems to fit with what Trump was advocating.
Perhaps the most notable thing to come out of all of this is that the White House seems to be — at least for the moment — disowning the idea of a deportation force in a way their boss simply hasn't. We'll see if that continues to be the company line.