U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on February 9, 2017. 
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Why Trump’s new vow to use ICE to deport ‘millions’ matters

Updated

Donald Trump appeared to make some important news via Twitter last night, announcing a dramatic new plan to use Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to remove “millions” of people from American soil.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.”

It was a striking announcement for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we can’t say with certainty whether the plan exists outside of the president’s imagination. After all, Trump has made related vows – on immigration and other issues – with no real intention of following through. It’s unsettling, but in 2019, Americans have a president who occasionally announces major policy developments that he has no intention of actually implementing.

What’s more, this appears to be the latest in a series of incidents in which Trump blindsided his own team by making an announcement without alerting the relevant officials first. The Washington Post reported, “U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said in recent days that the operation was not imminent, and ICE officials said late Monday night that they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter.”

It’s not even clear if Trump’s declaration could be true. While the Justice Department has expedited deportation orders, the Post’s report added, “The president’s claim that ICE would be deporting ‘millions’ also was at odds with the reality of the agency’s staffing and budgetary challenges. ICE arrests in the U.S. interior have been declining in recent months because so many agents are busy managing the record surge of migrant families across the southern border with Mexico.”

The logistical challenges associated with removing “millions” of immigrants – a plan that would require extensive planning and personnel – are significant, and there’s little to suggest the Department of Homeland Security is prepared to execute such a scheme. (Trump tapped Mark Morgan to lead ICE only a few weeks ago.)

But then there’s that other nagging problem: if ICE was actually planning to launch such a plan next week, wouldn’t that be the sort of thing a president keeps under wraps?

The Washington Post’s article went on to note, “Large-scale ICE enforcement operations are typically kept secret to avoid tipping off targets. In 2018, Trump and other senior officials threatened the mayor of Oakland, Calif., with criminal prosecution for alerting city residents that immigration raids were in the works.”

There are already widespread concerns about Trump’s trustworthiness when it comes to handling sensitive and secret information. This telegraphing of a purported law-enforcement operation won’t help.

All of which leads us to an awkward question: why in the world did the Republican publish this tweet? If the plan may not be ready; if ICE wasn’t notified the announcement was coming; if officials may not yet be prepared to implement the plan; and if operational details like these are generally kept from the public, what prompted Trump to make the declaration?

Maybe the president lacks impulse control. It’s also possible he thought this news would be a convenient distraction from other headlines.

But if I had to guess, I’d say Trump, like a child who wakes up early on his birthday to open presents, is excited about the official launch of his re-election campaign today – and he wanted something new to brag about.

Using ICE to “remove millions of illegal aliens,” as Trump put it, is a crowd-pleaser – just so long as the crowd is made up of his most loyal followers – and it’s likely the president published the tweet to lay the groundwork for tonight’s applause in Orlando.

The other considerations – whether the plan is real, whether ICE is prepared, the economic impact of deporting millions of people, the gut-wrenching affects on so many families, et al. – are niceties for which Trump has no use.