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Former Acting ICE Director Weighs In On Trump's Plan To Deport Millions


President Trump is promising to deport millions of people in the U.S. illegally starting next week. Today, his acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave some details.


MARK MORGAN: Not only will we be enforcing the law, maintaining the integrity of the system, but we're also going to send a powerful message to the individuals in the Northern Triangle country - do not come; do not risk it - because once you get here, if you - once you receive due process and get a final order, you will be removed.

SHAPIRO: That's Mark Morgan, speaking with reporters today. He suggested that thousands of people will be deported, not millions, as the president said. He said, first up will be migrant families and others who have received final orders of removal.

To talk about what this entails, we're joined now by John Sandweg. He served as acting director of ICE under the Obama administration. Welcome to the studio.

JOHN SANDWEG: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: So Morgan says these are people who have had due process who ICE now has no choice but to deport. How much of a shift would this actually be from what this government has been doing?

SANDWEG: Well, historically, other than a brief period of time during the Obama administration, the truth is that there has not been much in the way of enforcement efforts against individuals who came to this country, filed an asylum claim, lost and were not detained during the process.

Candidly, I think that when I was at ICE and during my time at DHS, we just thought that there were higher priority individuals - folks who had posed a threat to public safety - you know, that we should dedicate our resources to, rather than focus necessarily on, this population.

SHAPIRO: Well, what do you think of this policy?

SANDWEG: Well, listen. I do think it's important that we have integrity in our asylum system, and I think the important part that the acting director said is that - whether you get a full and fair process. The problem here, though, unfortunately, is that there's a lot of chaos in the system right now. Everybody's dramatically overwhelmed, and there's a very high likelihood that a lot of these people who have a so-called final order of removal never even knew they had a hearing before an immigration judge.

SHAPIRO: You say that everybody in this process is totally overwhelmed. Setting aside whether it's a good idea or not, is it something that can be implemented? Is there capacity to do this?

SANDWEG: It's going to be hard. And look. The question here is, what's going to give? ICE only has so many resources. And I think the Trump administration likes to act like they're pushing ICE, you know, in a ways, whereas the Obama administration was not. But the reality here is that ICE has always operated 100% of its capacity.

So the question is, when you look at who is ICE focusing its enforcement efforts on, as it now takes on this additional responsibility, who are they going to diminish their enforcement efforts against? And I guess my biggest concern would be, are we going to see a diminishment in the focus on individuals with serious criminal histories or coming out of federal prisons or state prisons who actually pose a threat to public safety in order to focus on this population?

SHAPIRO: So is the crunch with the actual ICE agents who would be finding people and putting them into deportation proceedings - where is the crunch?

SANDWEG: Yeah, the entire system. The number of ICE agents who are going to go find these individuals - it's very labor-intensive work to find these individuals. So now when you're out there doing that work, maybe you're not being able to respond to a jail or a prison where there's a serious, you know, violent felony offender being booked.

It's also going to be the crunch, though, with the - you know, just in terms of the charter flight network and the detention beds. ICE is already at 52,000 beds. They're only budgeted for 40. So they're already stretching their budget very thin on - in terms of detention.

This is something that has to be done very carefully. When you're talking about - a lot of these are going to be family units with minor children. Now, fortunately, unlike the family separation, they will keep the family unit together, but there is no way to do this without some detention of including vulnerable minor children. And that is incredibly sensitive. And what concerns me is, have there been adequate plans put in place to ensure that this is done as carefully as possible?

SHAPIRO: What do you make of the discrepancy between the acting ICE director Mark Morgan implying that thousands of people are going to be deported and the president saying it will be millions?

SANDWEG: I think the acting director's, you know, prediction of thousands of deportations is much more likely than millions. In the most vigorous year of enforcement in ICE history, ICE only removed 400,000 people. It'll be very difficult for us to remove anywhere near that level of individuals, no matter how hard the president pushes them.

SHAPIRO: That's John Sandweg. He served as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama. Thank you for joining us.

SANDWEG: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.