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Then-President Donald Trump at the border wall in Alamo, Texas.
Then-President Donald Trump at the border wall in Texas on Jan. 12, 2021.Alex Brandon / AP file

Trump eyes radical immigration measures in possible second term

Under Donald Trump's post-election vision, the government would actually round up immigrants and put them in camps. That’s not hyperbole; that’s the plan.


In 2018, when Donald Trump initiated his family-separation policy at the U.S./Mexico border, the then-president initially responded to the uproar by saying his tactics weren’t his fault. “We have to break up families,” the Republican said at a White House event. “The Democrats gave us that law. It’s a horrible thing. We have to break up families. ... It’s terrible.”

Trump was, of course, brazenly lying. There was no such law requiring him to engage in such cruelty. He was right to describe his own policy as “horrible” and “terrible,” but the responsibilities rested entirely on his shoulders.

Five years later, the former president no longer bothers with the pretense. Indeed, in a Univision interview last week, he defended his efforts by insisting that he’d created a disincentive for desperate families. “We did family separation. A lot of people didn’t come,” Trump said. “It stopped people from coming by their hundreds of thousands because when they hear family separation, they say ‘Well, we better not go.’”

The comments were notable for a few reasons. First, they bore little resemblance to the nonsense he peddled in 2018. Second, as a factual matter, Trump’s claims were dubious: As my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones explained, “[D]ata suggests the family separation policy did little to actually deter migrants from seeking entry into the United States.”

But as relevant as those details are, the former president’s rhetoric raised a related question: If he’s convinced himself that family separations were wise and effective in 2018, should Americans expect to see a sequel if Trump is given a second term?

For now, the answer isn’t clear, and neither the candidate nor his team have indicated whether they’d recreate the policy anew if given the opportunity. That said, as The New York Times reported, Trump’s post-election plans related to immigration are taking shape — and they’re breathtaking.

Former President Donald J. Trump is planning an extreme expansion of his first-term crackdown on immigration if he returns to power in 2025 — including preparing to round up undocumented people already in the United States on a vast scale and detain them in sprawling camps while they wait to be expelled. The plans would sharply restrict both legal and illegal immigration in a multitude of ways.

When it comes to the Republican frontrunner and immigration policy, I’m mindful about the importance of avoiding exaggeration. But if the Times’ article is accurate — the reporting has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News — Trump envisions a governing model in which the government actually rounds up people and puts them in camps.

That’s not hyperbole; that’s the plan.

What’s more, if lawmakers balked at the idea of paying for such camps, Trump would reportedly “redirect money” away from the Pentagon, regardless of Congress’ wishes, just as he did in his first term in order to finance border barriers.

The same vision also includes another Muslim ban, the end of automatic citizenship for those born in the United States, and a campaign that would “scour the country for unauthorized immigrants” and direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to “carry out sweeping raids.”

This, of course, is the same Trump who also said last month that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”

What’s more, the Times spoke to Stephen Miller, a top aide to the former president, who shed additional light on the post-2024 vision.

While a law known as the Posse Comitatus Act generally forbids the use of the armed forces for law enforcement purposes, another law called the Insurrection Act creates an exception. Mr. Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act at the border, enabling the use of federal troops to apprehend migrants, Mr. Miller said.

It was just last week when The Washington Post reported that Trump and his allies were “drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office.” This element of the post-election plans is reportedly being overseen by Jeffrey Clark, who also raised the specter of invoking the Insurrection Act after Trump’s 2020 defeat as part of a scheme to keep the Republican in power by deploying the military against Americans.

“Mass detention camps, attempts to deny children born here citizenship, uprooting families with mass deportations — this is the horrifying reality that awaits the American people if Donald Trump is allowed anywhere near the Oval Office again,” President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign said in a written statement. “These extreme, racist, cruel policies dreamed up by him and his henchman Stephen Miller are meant to stoke fear and divide us, betting a scared and divided nation is how he wins this election.”