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Former DHS Official On Trump's Mass Deportation Threats


President Trump says that starting next week, ICE agents will begin deporting millions of migrants who are living in the U.S. illegally. It started on Monday with a tweet, and then the president doubled down at his campaign rally in Florida last night.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We believe our country should be a sanctuary for law-abiding citizens, not for criminal aliens.


TRUMP: And we will always support and protect the heroes of ICE, Border Patrol and law enforcement generally throughout our country. Thank you.


KING: Theresa Cardinal Brown is with me now. She was a policy adviser at the Department of Homeland Security for Presidents George W. Bush and President Obama. Thanks for coming in.


KING: So let's talk about whether this is possible. Does ICE have the people and the resources to undertake the kind of mass crackdown that the president's been talking about?

CARDINAL BROWN: Certainly not in the millions that he's talked about. And I think a couple of things to understand - first of all, both Customs and Border Protection and Immigration Customs Enforcement - their resources are already stretched dealing with the migration at the border right now. And so any resources that they might have to address the status of folks inside the United States are already somewhat limited.

And operationally, there's a lot of questions about this. So, I mean, when I was at DHS, I worked with a lot of the operators. And one of the things that would normally happen is there'd be a lot of planning into doing this kind of thing. We're talking about people that are not - their location may not necessarily be known to ICE. So the first question is, where are they, and does ICE have enough information to try to find them?

Then it's setting up an operation where they're going to go try to figure out where is the best place to try to encounter these people and apprehend them with the least risk to the migrants, themselves, the communities. There's a lot of planning that goes into it, and then they usually don't announce it ahead of time, right?

KING: Why don't they announce it ahead of time?

CARDINAL BROWN: Well, like any law enforcement operation, if you announce ahead of time to the people you're trying to apprehend that you're going to apprehend them, they will leave, or they'll change the routine or they will hide out. And, you know, they're not able to be located. So - and in fact, just last year, the president and law enforcement got very upset with the mayor of Oakland for announcing ahead of time a series of ICE raids that were planned in that city.

So this is, I think, more of a political thing that he did to sort of announce this. Obviously, he talked about it again at the rally last night. If you - the ICE people's - DHS people have been sort of walking it back, saying, yeah, we're - we're working on this. We're conducting something soon, but not necessarily next week.

KING: Suggesting that maybe the president over-spoke at some point. I wonder - you have been - you have worked for other administrations. Have they contemplated mass roundups? President Obama had this nickname - the deporter in chief. Is this something that is talked about behind closed doors?

CARDINAL BROWN: I don't think anybody realistically expects that the government could, with the resources that Congress has allotted it, massively round up and deport 11 million people. That's just not likely to happen. The most deportations that ever happened in a year did happen under President Obama - just over - about 410,000 in 2012. A lot of them were apprehensions at the border, not from the interior.

And again, ICE's resources are already stretched very thin. DHS just wrote a letter to Congress last week, saying, we might run out of money by August if we don't have an emergency supplemental. So again, there - there's not resources to go after that.

But announcing this kind of thing and talking about it is a way of certainly announcing to his base that he's trying - that he's serious about immigration enforcement, but also, I think, probably putting a scare into an awful lot of immigrant communities right now.

KING: I wonder about that. I mean, ICE raids have been happening periodically for years. President Trump says, I want to do it all at once. What difference does that make to people who are here illegally and you imagine would be frightened no matter what?

CARDINAL BROWN: Well, certainly, I think you're going to see a lot of children of immigrants maybe not showing up to school, parents who are working not going to work. They're going to be fearful of showing their faces in public and being out there, which will make any ICE effort harder, frankly.

And yeah, ICE conducts operations, you know, in various places around the country for various targets all the time. But this kind of mass show of force is not something that they do on a regular basis. It takes an awful lot of effort. And, you know, again, I don't think that's going to have a result that the president's really thinking of.

KING: Theresa Cardinal Brown, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security. Thank you so much for coming in.

CARDINAL BROWN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.