Right now, a million illegal immigrants have exhausted all their legal appeals and yet still live in the United States illegally, partially thanks to lackluster deportation efforts by the Obama administration. Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, joins us to discuss what Immigration and Customs Enforcement can do, and how. Read the interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:

We also cover these stories:

  • Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan steps down, and Army Secretary Mark Esper is named the new acting defense secretary.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez compares migrant detention centers to concentration camps.
  • Parkland student Kyle Kashuv reiterates how sorry he is for using a racist term, after Harvard rescinds his admission.

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Katrina Trinko: Can President Donald Trump really deport millions of illegal immigrants, as he suggested in a tweet this week?

Joining us to discuss this is Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Thanks for joining us, Hans.

Von Spakovsky: Well, thanks for having me.

Trinko: So, we don’t really know much about what President Trump is proposing to do. This came out in a tweet and we haven’t seen additional details, so we don’t know.

Would this affect only recent illegal immigrants, illegal immigrants who have been here a while? But just generally speaking, how do deportations work right now, and how do they decide who to prioritize?

Von Spakovsky: Well, I’ll tell you: I suspect what he’s probably referring to is the fact that there are over [1] million unenforced deportation orders sitting over at the Department of Homeland Security, if you can believe it.

And these are deportation orders issued by federal immigration judges. So, these are on aliens who have completely exhausted the legal process. They’ve had a hearing, a judge has heard their claims that they’re entitled to be in the U.S., and after reviewing all of the evidence, immigration judges have said, “No, you’re not eligible to be in the U.S.,” and they’ve issued a final order saying this person can be deported and, basically, immediately removed from the U.S.

Now, if you’re wondering how there could possibly be a million unenforced orders like this, well, they just kind of built up over at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.

Because what happens is, the immigration judges send their order over to [the Department of Homeland Security], and it’s then up to [the Department of Homeland Security] to enforce the order, pick up the illegal alien, put them on a plane or whatever to get them out of the country.

And the Obama administration wasn’t really interested in enforcing our immigration laws, and they didn’t do very much about these deportation orders.

So, if the president wants to do something immediately, like I said, there’s a million illegal aliens with removal orders that can be sent out of the country immediately if [the Department of Homeland Security] can find them, pick them up, and put them on transportation out of the country.

Daniel Davis: So, why haven’t they been deported in the last couple of years? I would just assume that President Trump comes in, he’s elected, it seems like an obvious thing to do.

Von Spakovsky: Well, yeah, but they’ve been working on them. I mean, as you know, the president for the past two years has made a priority of getting criminal illegal aliens out of the country.

And by that I don’t mean people that just broke our immigration laws, but individuals who committed crimes when they were in the United States, and there are a good number of these deportation orders that are related to criminal illegal aliens.

So, they have been working on it, but they just don’t have enough resources to do this quickly and effectively.

And, as you know, one of the reasons for that is the president’s been pushing Congress to give more money for all kinds of things. And this is one of the things that he needs to get more money for.

Trinko: So, what are some of the obstacles? Is it sometimes hard to track down these people who are supposed to be deported or …

Von Spakovsky: Yes.

Trinko: OK, so what causes the pain points?

Von Spakovsky: Yeah, some of it is, it’s hard to track them down, because as you know, the interior United States, we are very big country. And for an illegal alien who wants to disappear using an assumed name and trying not to do anything that would get them on the government’s radar, it’s easy to disappear.

So, finding these folks can be difficult.

It’s also made difficult by the fact that, as you know, there are sanctuary cities, unfortunately, now all over the country. And one way of finding these folks is, particularly criminal aliens, is they tend to be repeat criminals.

And if they are arrested for committing a local crime, if it’s a sanctuary city, well, the law enforcement there isn’t going to call [the Department of Homeland Security] and tell them, “Look, we’ve got a criminal illegal alien here. Can you please come pick them up and get them out of the country?”

In fact, you all, as you know, saw that not too long ago, the U.S. attorney in Boston criminally indicted and arrested a state court judge who helped an illegal alien who was in her courtroom for a local drug charge when she found out there was an ICE agent there to detain him, and so he could be removed from the country.

She instructed her bailiff to sneak him out the back door of the courthouse.

So, when you have things like that going on, it makes it even more difficult for [the Department of Homeland Security] to find these illegal aliens so they can remove them.

Davis: So, what happens in cases where you’ve got a child who was born here, is a U.S. citizen, but the parents are here illegally?

Von Spakovsky: Well, that does make the situation much more difficult. I frankly think what ought to happen in that situation is that the child should go with the parents back to their native country.

And if and when the child turns 18, that child can decide whether they want to stay in their native land with their parents or come to the U.S. and become a U.S. citizen.

Now, I’ll tell you, I actually think our current policy of birthright citizenship is an incorrect interpretation of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution. And I think we should change that.

But that is the way the government currently treats individuals who were born to parents who are illegally in the country.

Davis: And would that policy have to change in order for the kids to be sent with the parents back home?

Von Spakovsky: I think so, yeah. But look, to me, it’s a matter of what parent would want to leave their child in a foreign country?

Trinko: Right. So, of those who have exhausted all the means, that the judges have said, “You can’t stay here,” or any of them, visa overstays, or is this all immigration that from the get-go was illegal?

Von Spakovsky: No, a lot of it is visa overstays. In fact, the southern border is a real problem, particularly because the numbers have been steadily climbing of folks trying to get across illegally.

But the estimates are that probably upwards of 40% of the illegal aliens who are in the country are visa overstays.

So … what that tells you is, we have to not only have better security at the border, but we have to have better security in the interior of the United States.

Davis: So, some are saying that it’s unrealistic to say that millions could be deported. Say that [the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement] have all the money and resources that they could possibly want and need, and say you take the maybe 3 [million] or 4 million illegal immigrants who are the most prime candidates for deportation: How long would that operation take?

Von Spakovsky:  I don’t know how long it would take, but I’ll tell you something else that the federal government ought to do, and has not done fully the way it should, and that is, the vast majority of aliens who are in this country illegally are here for economic reasons, right? They’re here to earn money.

They send huge amounts of remittances back to their native countries. What we have to do is make it as difficult as possible for them to actually work and earn money, because if that happens, then they’ll self-deport.

And what that means is that the Justice Department needs to spend a lot more time and effort in going after employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, and all it would take, I think, is a number of cases like that in various parts of the country to scare other employers who are knowingly hiring illegal aliens.

We’re not talking about employers who don’t realize that someone has used false identification documents. We’re talking about employers who know somebody’s illegal, but they hire them anyway.

If you cut off the job prospects and employment for illegal aliens, that would cause many of them to self-deport, and that, in conjunction with increased enforcement, I think, would severely diminish the problem we have.

Davis: Are you talking about E-Verify or some other measure short of that that could be done?

Von Spakovsky: Well, what I’m talking about is the [Department of Homeland Security], for example, does audits of employers to ensure that they are properly checking the status of individuals, because under federal law, all employers have to get certain identification documents from individuals so they can establish, one, their identity; and two, that they’re either a U.S. citizen or they’re an alien who’s legally in the U.S. and has a permit to work.

And those audits ought to be that there needs to be more of them. And when they find employers who clearly [are] hiring illegal aliens, and they know it, those folks need to be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Trinko: So, we’re going through another news cycle where, for lack of a better term, people are freaking out over the camps in which illegal immigrants and migrants coming over the border are being held.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to them as being akin to concentration camps.

But you know, a big factor in deportations, of course, is “catch and release,” the policy in which people are released after they cross the border and ask to show up to a court date.

And I forgot the exact stats, but the numbers show a lot of people never show up for their court date, which is what they need to do to be in this country legally.

So, how does catch and release and these camps, how does this all play into the bigger picture and bigger issue of deportation?

Von Spakovsky: Well, the problem with the catch and release policy is that once you release folks, they disappear into the interior of the country, and a majority of them won’t show up for their scheduled immigration court hearing.

So, the more we can do to secure the border, to go on the southern border to keep people from getting in, the less we’ll have to catch and release.

Now, one of the things the president asked Congress for was more money to put in more detention space, because the numbers coming in are overwhelming the number of beds and facilities that [the Department of Homeland Security] has.

And again, Democrats in Congress have refused to provide that.

I have to say, I find it personally just insulting and so unfair for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez to compare the detention facilities, which are run very well by [the Department of Homeland Security], to compare them to concentration camps is historically and factually just wrong.

And it’s insulting for her to do that. And I say that as someone whose parents met in a refugee camp in Europe at the end of World War II.

My mother grew up in Nazi Germany. We know what concentration camps look [like], and to compare the detention facilities the [Department of Homeland Security] has to concentration camps is just completely and totally wrong.

Davis: All right, well, I think we’ll leave it there. But Hans, thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast.

Von Spakovsky: Sure. Thanks for having me.