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Families & Community

Let's pause for a sec, and imagine what it would actually look like to deport millions of people

japanese_internment.jpg
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A business in Florin, CA gets ready to sell everything to prepare for forced relocation of its Japanese American owners and customers during the 1940s.

They say it's 11 million people. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. People who are living in the United States without a piece of paper to prove they have the legal right to do so. 

The people who are charged with writing laws have so far come up with no law that can solve this problem. But there are ideas. One idea in particular seems to be getting a lot of air time lately: Just round up all these 11 million people and send them away. 

Let's try to imagine what that would look like. 

"Let me tell you. We're going to do it in a very humane fashion," said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a testy exchange a few nights ago in Iowa.  

Trump has been the loudest voice so far in calling for the deportation of millions of people. His preferred plan actually seems to be to deport far more than 11 million people, since he's proposed eliminating citizenship rights for an estimated five million natural-born citizens of the U.S. whose parents are undocumented. Trump has also said he doesn't want to split up families, so you can also add an unknown number of spouses to the total. 

First, let's imagine the costs involved. The American Action Forum, which describes itself as a "center-right" policy organization, estimates that strictly enforcing current immigration law would cost somewhere between $400 to $600 million. That cost includes deportation of the 11 million people who currently don't have their papers, plus the ongoing cost of patrolling the border to prevent future violations. 

AAF estimates the U.S. would spend $43 million alone in apprehending those suspected of being undocumented. 

Close your eyes, and imagine what that looks like. Agents of the federal government, most likely from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, suddenly show up at restaurants and hotels all around your city. They show up at the farms where your food is grown. They show up at your office. They show up at the homes of millions of people. 
 

Agents of the federal government, most likely from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, suddenly show up at restaurants and hotels all around your city. They show up at the farms where your food is grown. They show up at your office. They show up at the homes of millions of people.

Millions of people are then put in handcuffs and marched off to a cell, where they await processing. AAF estimates the U.S. would spend an additional $35.7 million on detaining these suspects. 

And do you imagine that ICE executes all of this without making any mistakes? Do you imagine that no U.S. citizens are rounded up and illegally detained by accident?

And what do you imagine happens to the children? Are they sent to cells as well? Do they get to stay with their parents? 

What structure in your town has the capacity to hold that many people? How long do they stay? How are they fed? 

If you imagine that all of this happens smoothly and humanely, what happens next? 

Your average-sized bus holds about 50 people. If we expect to bus a minimum of 11 million people, that's roughly 220,000 buses. The average school bus is about 45 feet long. If you lined all those buses end-to-end, they would cover more than 1,800 miles. 

Imagine a line of buses that stretches from Detroit to El Paso, Texas. That's how many buses it would take to deport all of America's undocumented immigrants.
 

Imagine a line of buses that stretches from Detroit to El Paso, Texas. That's how many buses it would take to deport all of America's undocumented immigrants.

But if the bus stops in Mexico, only about half of the undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. would make it back to their home country. Fifteen percent come from other nations in Central America. Fourteen percent of the total number of undocumented immigrants come from Asia, according to the Migration Policy Institute. So, even an 1,800 mile-long line of buses wouldn't solve the problem. The U.S. would have to buy some plane tickets as well. 

And all of this will go smoothly? No families will be separated? No mistakes will be made by the federal agents charged with carrying it all out? 

And where will these people go once they've left the United States? Will they have homes back in their country of origin? Will they have jobs, and money and food to feed the many children forced to take the journey with them? 

Many of us learned in elementary school about the Trail of Tears, an event initiated by the federal government to relocate members of the Cherokee Nation. That resettlement involved 17,000 people.
 

Forced deportation for today's undocumented immigrants would affect 50 times the number of people affected by the Trail of Tears, 10 times the number of people affected by Japanese internment and nearly as many people affected during in the entire history of the African slave trade.

The federal government's forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II involved more than 100,000 people. The entire history of the slave trade involved the forced transport of more than 10 million Africans across the "Middle Passage." Only about half a million of them ended up in the United States. 

What Donald Trump (and others) are calling for when they call for the forced deportation of more than 11 million people would be a return to those times. Forced deportation for today's undocumented immigrants would affect 50 times the number of people affected by the Trail of Tears, 10 times the number of people affected by Japanese internment and nearly as many people affected during the entire history of the African slave trade. 

The defense of a deportation policy is, of course, that it is precisely what the current law calls for. Anyone who is not legally authorized to be in the United States must leave the United States. So goes the law. 

But fully, and strictly enforcing the country's current immigration laws would be an extremely costly endeavor, not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of human lives. 

Maybe that's why a majority of Americans support a path to legal residency in the U.S. for today's undocumented immigrants. And why, even among Republicans – those whom Donald Trump hopes to woo – 76% say enforcing the current laws would be "impractical." 

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