“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Mr. Trump said in the Cabinet Room during an hourlong meeting that reporters had been allowed in to document. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
During the session, Mr. Trump suggested that the mayor of Oakland, Calif., should be charged with obstruction of justice for warning her constituents in February of an impending large-scale immigration raid and arrests.
“You talk about obstruction of justice,” said the president, who is himself the subject of a special counsel’s investigation into whether he sought to thwart a federal examination of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections. “I would recommend that you look into obstruction of justice for the mayor of Oakland.”
Looking at Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, who sat at the other end of the large wooden conference table, Mr. Trump said: “Perhaps the Department of Justice can look into that.”
He alluded to a recent push by his administration that parents be separated from their children when families cross illegally into the United States, but blamed Democrats — many of whom have vehemently opposed the practice — for the new policy.
“I know what you’re going through right now with families is very tough, but those are the bad laws that the Democrats gave us,” Mr. Trump said. “We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law.”
Hillary Clinton was the more dangerous evil.
No matter how Trump is portraying his policy, his administration is not focusing on deporting people who have committed particularly heinous crimes; gang members; or people with criminal records. From Trump’s inauguration to the end of 2017, ICE arrested 45,436 immigrants without criminal records.
To be sure, ICE arrests of immigrants with criminal records ticked up slightly from the last year of the Obama administration (in which immigration enforcement was subdued compared to previous years) to the Trump administration. But arrests of immigrants without criminal records have also spiked. During President Obama’s last year, about 16 percent of ICE arrests were of noncriminal immigrants; each month since July 2017, between 32 and 40 percent of arrestees have been noncriminals.
The Trump administration is still deporting fewer noncriminal immigrants than the Obama administration did circa 2011, and the proportion of deportees who are noncriminals is usually smaller than the proportion of arrestees who are. But the Trump administration is aiming not just to ramp back up to the deportation peak of Obama’s first term but surpass it, and that’s going to require arresting and deporting a lot of immigrants without criminal records.
If Donald Trump understands his own administration’s policy, he’s never acknowledged it in public. He sticks to the same rhetorical move every time: refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.