President-elect Donald Trump says his administration will seek to promptly deport up to 3 million immigrants with “criminal records” who are in the U.S. illegally but will defer the far wider exclusions he called for during the campaign until “after the border is secure.”
Trump’s comments, made in an interview recorded for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” highlight one of the challenges he faces in reconciling the rhetoric that propelled him to victory with how he is prepared to govern.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records … probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said. “After the border is secure, and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination” on whether to deport others, he said.
Trump’s estimate of how many immigrants have criminal records exceeds what others have found. About 820,000 people in the U.S. illegally have criminal convictions, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, a group that is funded by Fortune 500 companies, major foundations, and the U.S. and more than a dozen foreign governments.
In an immigration policy speech in August, Trump said about 2 million “criminal aliens” lived in the U.S., a calculation made by the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit group that seeks to lower immigration levels. The organization said it was citing a Department of Homeland Security report that counted 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.”
That group, however, includes people who are legal permanent residents or have temporary visas. Trump did not say when this second phase of determinations might unfold.
Asked about his oft-repeated pledge to secure the U.S.-Mexico border by building a wall, Trump said he would consider sections of fencing, as preferred by some members of Congress.
Trump’s comments on immigration were echoed Sunday by other Republican leaders. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said, “We’re focused on securing the border. … We’re not planning on erecting a deportation force.”
Newt Gingrich, who was House speaker in the 1990s and who is assisting Trump’s transition, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the deportation of immigrants in the country illegally who have criminal pasts would be the new administration’s priority.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a close Trump ally, said his administration “would have to be very careful” regarding immigration from terrorism-prone regions of the Middle East.
“I think this is going to be a country-by-country decision,” Giuliani said on CNN.
Much will depend on the extent to which each country cooperates in sharing information. One clear exception, Giuliani suggested, would be prospective immigrants from Syria, because of the possibility that terrorists might be planted among refugees.
“We would be foolish to allow these people to come into the United States,” Giuliani said. U.S. authorities “already have 1,000 investigations of radical Islamic terrorists in the United States,” he said.
Under Obama administration policy, Syrian refugees applying for asylum in the U.S. undergo an 18- to 24-month vetting process, some of the most stringent examinations the government says it conducts in considering whom to allow in the country.
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