Home National Politics What Deporting 15 Million People Would Actually Look Like

What Deporting 15 Million People Would Actually Look Like

Democrats need to make clear the ugly reality of what a fascist, Trumpist GOP will mean to America if he is allowed back in power.


By Kindler

This time, we sure as hell better take Trump LITERALLY. When he says he intends to do something crazy as president, we need to let every voter out there know what his plans are and what they would mean in real life — to make sure he never gets the opportunity.

So when a journalist or analyst does a great job delving into all the implications of a stated Trump policy, we need to spread such work far and wide – as I’m doing today with Radley Balko’s superb piece, “Trump’s Deportation Army,” a well-researched effort to calculate what the Trump/Stephen Miller promise to deport 15 million allegedly undocumented immigrants would actually entail.

The answers Balko comes up with are stunning. Let me start with a few key points (most of which, as he explains in detail, are based on conservative estimates):

  • “15 million people [is] about the size of the three largest U.S. cities combined — New York, L.A., and Chicago — plus Pittsburgh.”
  • “The deportation army Miller and Trump want to assemble…would likely exceed the size of the U.S. Army itself.”
  • “According to the Center for Migration Studies, under Trump’s plan about 5.7 million U.S.-born, U.S. citizen children would lose one or both parents.”
  • “The pre-World War II Jewish population of Europe…was about 9 million. So just in terms of transporting people, we’re looking at an operation that would need to be two thirds larger than the Nazi transport of Jews during the Holocaust…”
  • “In 2017, ICE estimated that it cost an average of $10,854 to deport one person, or about $14,000 in today’s dollars. Under this calculation, Trump’s plan to deport 15 million people would cost about $210 billion, or about 14 percent more than the annual budget of the U.S. Army.”
  • “As of January, federal immigration courts were already working with a backlog of 3 million cases. Adding millions more cases would likely grind the system to a halt.”
  • “Miller and other immigration hawks are fond of citing the epithetically named ‘Operation Wetback’ as their model. This was the lawless, militaristic deportation program carried out by the Eisenhower administration. […] Historians have put the number of deportations [at around] 250,000 […] So even the notoriously brutal, civil-liberties trampling mass deportation that Miller and other immigration hawks recall so fondly only removed between 2 and 7 percent of the immigrants Trump wants to deport.”

In short, Trump and his cheerleaders are promising us an unimaginably disruptive, devastating, expensive, resource-intensive and epically cruel operation, which would impact people in every corner of the country and leave the kinds of wounds in our society and across the world that may never heal.

Yet the threat to deport 15 million human beings is too often reported as just another policy proposal, often with mealy-mouthed euphemisms like “dealing with our immigration problems.” Nope, sorry, that’s not acceptable – if anyone wants to have this discussion, let’s drag them through the reality of what this evil idea would actually encompass. And Balko’s piece should serve as a foundation for all future discussions of the topic.

Twisted Logistics

Some will say, “Oh, that’s just Trump spouting off” and that it’s a waste of time to take him seriously.  And it’s certainly true that he got very little done in his first term, thanks to his famously short attention span, the sheer incompetence of his administration and actual resistance he faced even among his own appointees.

But this time is different.  The would-be fascists are learning from their mistakes and making detailed plans to ensure they succeed this time, whatever the cost to all of us in lives, dollars and freedoms. The Heritage Foundation-led Project 2025 deserves to be read, studied and reported on extensively for its fiendishly detailed blueprint for upending American democracy and replacing it with something awful.

And nefarious Trump adviser Stephen Miller has been giving interviews that show he has been thinking very hard about how to achieve their unspeakable goals of Making America White Again.

As Balko spins through the twisted logic of this proposal:

“Trump’s deportation plan would mean identifying the undocumented people in virtually every decent sized city, town, and county in the United States, detaining those people in some regional facility, transporting them to a bus station or airport, then flying, walking, or driving them across the border.” […]

“Imagine the number of buses and [planes] you’d need, the number of holding facilities, and everything you’d need to staff and equip those facilities. You’d need security. You’d need medical staff and food services. You’d need bathroom and shower facilities. You’d need janitorial staff, bus drivers, and pilots.”

But rest assured, like Adolf Eichmann calmly working through the details of how to transport, contain and handle millions of Jews across a continent, Stephen Miller is thinking through all of these fine points.  Here’s a typically chilling excerpt from an interview he gave to Charlie Kirk:

“So you build these facilities where then you’re able to say, you know, hypothetically, three times a day are the flights back to Mexico. Two times a day are the flights back to the Northern Triangle, right. On Monday and Friday are the flights back to different African countries, right.”

“On Thursday and Sunday are the flights back to different Asian countries. So you create this efficiency by having these standing facilities where planes are moving off the runway constantly, probably military aircraft, some existing DHS assets. And that’s how you’re able to scale and achieve the efficiency.”

Efficiency. Yes, that’s precisely the principle you should be following when breaking down the door of a suspiciously ethnic-looking person so you can tear them away from their children and send them to a detainment camp in the desert somewhere. Just make sure you do it efficiently!

This is one of those cases where the devil – or a whole bunch of devils – is truly in the details.  Balko, to his credit, spares us none of those details.

Such as that a Trump administration would have to enlist both local police forces and National Guard troops in order to come anywhere near the manpower needed. But these people are so certifiably insane that they are actually talking about having red state National Guard soldiers invading blue states for this purpose – per Miller: ““And if you’re going to go into an unfriendly state like Maryland, well, there would just be Virginia doing the arrest in Maryland, right, very close, very nearby.”  (As a resident of increasingly blue Virginia, let me just say — dream on, bro!)

As for the issue of where do you put 15 million detained people, Balko cites a Ron Brownstein article in The Atlantic: “Brownstein consulted with experts who made the dystopian suggestion of housing immigrants in warehouses and abandoned shopping malls.” Yeah, might as well put that shuttered Macy’s to use…

Deportation, of course, will also require massive resources to send migrants to other countries — and those countries’ cooperation. Imagine how much that cooperation will break down, with enormous diplomatic consequences, when we start sending hundreds of thousands of people to them. Will airports become filled with homeless people with no country willing to accept them?

(Please check out my Substack!)

Suicidal Economics

You’ve probably figured out by now that all of this would tank the economy.  I’m not going to walk through Balko’s detailed estimates of the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to even come close to accomplishing this dirty work. But here are a few other economic consequences that he notes:

  • “Tens of thousands of mixed-status families would be plunged into poverty, as the average annual income of households with at least one undocumented family member would drop from $41,000 per year to $23,000. The plan would also put more than 1 million mortgages in jeopardy, destabilizing the housing market.”
  • “[Center-right think tank] AAF…estimated that [Trump’s 2017 immigration plan] would result in a 6.4 percent reduction in the labor pool, which over 20 years would result in a U.S. economy about 6 percent smaller than it otherwise would be, at a loss of $1.6 trillion…A more recent calculation of the 15 million deportation plan estimates that GDP would immediately drop by 1.4 percent, and by $4.7 trillion over the next 10 years.”
  • “If Trump manages even a fraction of his deportation goals, expect to see a more punishing surge in inflation, driven by an increase in the cost of groceries, services like childcare and elder care, and new home construction.”

I could keep going, but you get the idea. The whimpering “I’m going to vote Trump because inflation!” crowd needs a big-time wake-up call so that they face up to what’s going to happen when you make all that immigrant labor disappear.  It won’t be pretty.

Moral Stain

But Balko, again to his credit, makes it crystal clear that this is not simply an accounting exercise.  It’s ultimately about looking ourselves in the mirror and asking who we are as human beings and how much cruelty we are willing to inflict on our neighbors – or just as bad, to stand by and watch it happen. I will end with a few of his observations on the moral implications of Trump’s plans:

  • “…when you combine Miller’s plan and personal history with Trump’s recent rhetoric portraying immigrants as diseased ‘animals’ turned loose from foreign prisons and mental facilities who ‘poison the blood’ of the country…you could be forgiven for noticing that we’re accumulating the necessary ingredients of a genocide…At the very least, they’re creating the conditions for a mass humanitarian crisis.”
  • “The goal will be to deport as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and purge anyone who tries to slow it down. Sticklers for legal restrictions or basic human rights will be quickly dismissed. If it costs too much or becomes to impractical to house and transport detained immigrants humanely, they’ll do it inhumanely. If it costs too much to afford them basic due process rights, they’ll ignore due process. If the immigration courts are moving too slowly, or if there just aren’t enough of them, they’ll just go around the courts.”

Finally, regarding the following quote from Stephen Miller – “If President Trump is back in the Oval Office in January, this is going to commence immediately, and it will be joyous, and it will be wonderful, and it will be everything you want it to be” – Balko comments:

  • “That last line is really depraved. Opposing undocumented immigration is one thing. Finding joy and glee at armed enforcers pulling people from their homes, cramming them into camps, and dumping them off in countries they barely know is diabolical.”

The sheer. evil ugliness of what working to deport 15 million people would mean is a series of mental images that we need to spread far and wide. In fact, everything Balko outlines makes for extremely compelling imagery, closer to what we would see in a dystopian sci fi movie than the daily news.

But really, that’s the whole point. Democrats need to learn to stop communicating in dry technical PowerPoint bullets and start throwing in everybody’s faces the ugly reality of what a fascist, Trumpist GOP will mean to America if he is allowed back in power. Better to see it in dramatic re-enactments or CGI or even just graphic descriptions today than playing out in our neighborhoods for the next four years or more.

Please check out my Substack!



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