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Trump Retreats From Hardline Immigration Promise On '60 Minutes'


Donald Trump had campaigned on the promise of deporting all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who live in the U.S. But on Sunday he narrowed his focus to those with criminal records during an interview with "60 Minutes."


DONALD TRUMP: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records - gang members, drug dealers. We have a lot of these people - probably 2 million. It could even be 3 million. We're getting them out of our country, or we're going to incarcerate.

SIEGEL: Well, to talk about how that might work, we're joined by Julie Myers Wood. She was a head of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency under President George W. Bush. Welcome to the program.

JULIE MYERS WOOD: Oh, thank you.

SIEGEL: Let's start with that number that Trump used last night - 2 or 3 million illegal immigrants he says who have criminal records. Is that number accurate?

WOOD: Well, it's hard to say if it's precisely accurate. It is probably based on an estimate of all the jails and prisons in the country and an estimate of the foreign-born population in those jails and prisons. Not everyone who is foreign-born of course is a non-citizen or even eligible for removal, but that is where we think they got this number, 2 to 3 million.

SIEGEL: And the number would assume that even though I think 2 million people have been deported by the Obama administration over the last eight years, there would still be perhaps as many as 2 or 3 million left in that category.

WOOD: You know, there are still a number of criminal aliens who come into the country. You know, during these past eight years, there are individuals who've been here and then committed crimes.

In addition, I would say that the Obama administration really focused on the worst of the worst criminals, and my understanding would be that a Trump administration would look at those who have been convicted of less serious crimes as eligible for deportation.

SIEGEL: House Speaker Paul Ryan said over the weekend that Congress is not planning on erecting a deportation force. Could what Donald Trump is talking about doing be done without there being some kind of new deportation force?

WOOD: Well, certainly what President-elect Trump is talking about will strain the resources of ICE, not only of the deportation officers, but it will also strain the resources of the Department of Justice. So some of the individuals who are convicted criminals may be here legally, but their crime makes them eligible for removal.

They are also eligible to go through a lengthy court proceeding. We don't have enough immigration judges to handle the current immigration court system and the cases that come through it. If President Trump's plan is pushing a high number of cases additionally through the court system, that's really going to cause a significant backlog.

SIEGEL: But are you talking just about problems of resources, or are there legal hurdles that mean that deportation is not a one-week operation?

WOOD: Well, it depends on the individual as to whether or not an individual who is here without authorization can be deported quickly. Certainly, though, there will also be lawsuits. And I think that if President-elect Trump's administration is getting more aggressive at immigration enforcement, DHS and ICE and DOJ have got to be prepared for a barrage of lawsuits challenging the way that the immigration laws are enforced.

SIEGEL: If we were to think in terms of a couple of million deportations early in this Trump administration, how much would that cost, do you think?

WOOD: It would cost, you know, a huge amount of money. If you look at the money that's spent, you know, every year for President Obama's team to deport kind of 400,000 and you kind of step that up, you can see you're talking kind of billions of dollars to be spent on removal. It's very costly to remove individuals from the United States.

SIEGEL: Julie Myers Wood, thanks for talking with us again today.

WOOD: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: That's Julie Myers Wood, former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, talking about President-elect Donald Trump's promise to deport 2 or 3 million illegal immigrants. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.