U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on February 9, 2017. 
NTB SCANPIX

Trump won’t say if servicemembers’ loved ones could be deported

Updated

Many communities across the country have been braced for mass-deportation efforts, which Donald Trump has said are on the way, though for now, the initiative hasn’t taken shape in earnest. NBC News reported yesterday afternoon that immigration raids have begun, but the pace has “started slow.”

Earlier Sunday afternoon, there was little evidence of massive immigration enforcement operations, as immigrant communities prepared for their arrival.

Two senior Department of Homeland Security officials told NBC News last week that the raids, which had been postponed several weeks ago, were scheduled to take place on Sunday. But the administration altered its plans from a large-scale sweep to a smaller set of arrests over the coming week after news reports informed immigrant communities about the raids, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing several current and former Department of Homeland Security officials familiar with the operation.

Ruthie Epstein, the deputy director for immigration policy at the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC News that the group had not heard anything from its networks as of Sunday afternoon, but were closely monitoring the situation.

It’s tough to speculate about the reasoning behind the latest developments. Maybe the president’s mass-deportation chest-thumping was meaningless rhetoric; maybe the DHS efforts will intensify in the coming days and weeks. I don’t imagine anyone facing the threat will grow complacent anytime soon.

What struck me as especially notable, however, was a question a reporter asked Trump during a brief Q&A on Friday. At issue were U.S. military families and the prospect of deportations.

This was the exchange after the president was asked if he’d provide any assurances to servicemembers’ families:

TRUMP: So nobody has treated the military better than President Trump. Nobody. Nobody has even come close. And you see that with budgets, you see that with the pay increases, and you see that with medical. But you know where you see it more than any place is with the vets. Because the vets now have Choice. They never had Choice before. For forty–

Q: But can you guarantee that their loved ones won’t be deported?

TRUMP: Wait. Wait. Wait. For 44 years —

Q: Can you guarantee that their loved ones won’t be deported?

TRUMP: Wait. Wait. For 44 years – we are looking at that. For 44 years, they’ve tried to get Veterans Choice. I got it. Nobody else could’ve gotten it.

At that point, the president changed the subject.

There are, of course, two rather obvious problems with Trump’s response. The first is that he clumsily dodged the question: asked about possible deportations of servicemembers’ loved ones, the president bragged about a VA program. Veterans Choice is not irrelevant as a policy matter, but there was an obvious disconnect between the question and the answer – which reinforced fears that servicemembers’ loved ones may very well be deported.

The second problem is that Trump has lied for months about his role in securing the policy. As fact-checkers have repeatedly explained, the president may have convinced himself that “nobody else” could’ve secured passage of Veterans Choice, but in reality, the policy was approved in 2014 – when it was signed by Barack Obama.

In effect, Trump argued, “I want so much credit for Obama’s success that I deserve a pass on deporting servicemembers’ spouses and breaking up their families.”

It’s gibberish.

Postscript: The possibility of these deportations is not an academic exercise. In some instances, it’s actually happened.