When Trump says he wants to deport criminals, he means something starkly different than Obama

President-elect Donald Trump’s advisors are drafting plans to resume workplace raids and to ramp up pressure on local police and jails to identify immigrants in the country illegally in an effort to meet Trump’s goal to deport 2 million to 3 million migrants who he says are criminals.

That could put the incoming Trump administration in direct conflict with Los Angeles and the laws of California, as well as other cities and states, setting the stage for an almost certain high-stakes legal and political battle.

The Obama administration set a priority in his second term of deporting migrants with criminal convictions, and it has expelled 530,000 convicted criminals since 2013. Since taking office in 2009, Obama has expelled 2.5 million people, more than any other president.

According to two senior officials in the transition team, Trump’s advisors will seek to widen that net to include migrants who have been charged but not convicted, suspected gang members and drug dealers, and people charged with such immigration violations as illegal reentry and overstaying visas, as well as lower-level misdemeanors.

If local authorities refuse to cooperate, Trump’s advisors are looking at withholding some federal law enforcement funds and equipment that go to state and local police agencies for holding federal prisoners or improving police practices.

On Monday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said he has no plans to change the LAPD’s refusal to enforce some federal immigration policies.

Under Beck, the department stopped turning over people arrested on suspicion of low-level crimes to federal agents for deportation and moved away from honoring federal requests to detain inmates who could be deported after their jail terms.

“I don’t intend on doing anything different,” he said. “We are not going to engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status. We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that bars state police from holding someone for immigration agents unless the suspect has been charged or convicted of a serious crime such as drug trafficking, child abuse or gang activity.

In recent years, police chiefs in numerous jurisdictions have rejected local enforcement of immigration laws, saying it makes immigrants less likely to report crimes or help police conduct investigations.

During the campaign, Trump said he also would withhold federal funds to punish so-called sanctuary cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, for their lenient policies toward illegal immigration.

At a news conference Monday, President Obama said he will encourage Trump to keep a program that has given temporary work permits and legal status to more than 740,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Trump said repeatedly during the campaign he would shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but he did not say whether he would seek to deport those given protection under the program.

“I will urge the president-elect and the incoming administration to think long and hard before they are endangering the status of what for all practical purposes are American kids,” Obama said.

Those vetted under the program, he added, “are solid, wonderful young people of good character, and it is my strong belief that the majority of the American people would not want to see suddenly those kids have to start hiding again.”

Early in his presidential campaign, Trump said he intended to deport all of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. But he later amended that, and on Sunday he provided a broad outline of his plan.

He told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that his administration will “get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million. We are getting them out of the country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of the country. They’re here illegally.”

To boost the tallies, his advisors say, Trump will probably  reinstate workplace raids to find those in the country illegally, to push illegal immigrants out of jobs and to send a signal across the borders to try to dissuade others from entering the country illegally or overstaying their visas.

Hard-line immigration advisors on Trump’s transition team also are drafting plans to dramatically increase prosecutions of illegal entry, an immigration violation that doesn’t always lead to deportation under current policy.

They plan to expand the use of a deportation process that bypasses immigration courts and allows immigration officers to expel foreigners immediately upon being captured.

The process, called “expedited removal,” now applies only to undocumented immigrants arrested within 100 miles of the border and within two weeks of illegally entering the country who don’t express a credible fear of persecution if they are returned home.

Trump’s immigration policy advisors also want to expand a program that gives some police officers immigration authority and trains jailers to identify potentially deportable inmates.

The Trump administration also may restore a controversial program called Secure Communities that began under President George W. Bush. It automatically notified federal agents when an undocumented immigrant was fingerprinted and booked in a local jail.

Many communities, including Los Angeles, ultimately refused to participate and the program was canceled in November 2014. Immigration agents now must show a court has ordered deportation of an inmate, or probably will do so, to get the jail to hold a suspect for federal agents. 

Immigration officials say they have enough officers and detention beds to deport about 400,000 people per year — the record set in 2012 at the end of Obama’s first term.

Last year, the Obama administration deported about 235,000 people and Trump advisors believe that undoing some of the limits Obama set in his second term could push deportations back above 400,000 next year.

That could still require five years to reach 2 million deportations unless Congress provides money to hire thousands more deportation officers, hundreds more immigration judges and vastly more detention facilities.

Trump gave no time frame for his deportation target, and some immigration experts say his figures appear wildly inflated.

“There’s nowhere near 3 million serious criminals among the undocumented population,” said Frank Sharry, head of America's Voice, an immigration advocacy group. “We suspect he’s gearing up to implement a very harsh and radical deportation regime and he’s going to deploy it under the pretext they are criminals, when they are not.”

Studies by social scientists have found that the incarceration rate among immigrants is lower than that of the general population.

A 2015 study of immigration and population data by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, concluded that the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally included about 300,000 convicted felons and 390,000 others with serious misdemeanors.

Trump apparently obtained his 2 million estimate from a document prepared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a request to Congress for funding in 2013.

In it, ICE estimated 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens” in the country. The estimate includes legal residents and valid visa holders who have been charged with crimes, putting their legal status in jeopardy.

That same year, ICE reported that 870,000 people had been ordered deported but had not yet been forced out. It’s unclear how many are still in the country.

Adding those two figures may be how Trump reached his ballpark 3-million estimate.

During his “60 Minutes” interview, Trump was vague about his plans for the millions of immigrants in the country illegally who have not committed crimes.

“After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about who are terrific people,” Trump said.

That sounds promising to Alfonso Aguilar, head of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, an advocacy group. “When he said ‘terrific people,’ it doesn’t sound like he’s going to deport ‘terrific people,’” he said.

But Aguilar noted that in August, Trump laid out a hard-nosed, 10-point immigration plan that would make life difficult for immigrants without legal status, including requiring every employer to use a federal immigration status verification system for all hires.

Trump also said he would withhold visas for visitors from countries such as China, Iran and Haiti that won’t receive convicted criminals being deported from the U.S.

Some hard-line advocacy groups urged Trump’s team to go further and to consider deporting migrants who have committed low-level misdemeanors.

Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants lower immigration rates, said the Obama administration “refused to deport a large number of illegal immigrants whose crimes they thought weren’t serious enough to warrant deportation.”

“For all the talk about how this is a radical departure and the end of the world and Hitler is coming, this is taking the handcuffs off and going back to more of what Obama did, but in a change of degree,” said Krikorian, who has been sending policy proposals to the Trump transition team but is not a formal advisor.

Times staff writer Kate Mather in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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