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ImmigrationTrump’s policies will affect four groups of undocumented immigrants

By Susan Bibler Coutin and Jennifer Chacón

Published 30 January 2017

President Donald Trump is expected to order the deportation of millions of “criminal aliens” this week. Administrations prioritize the removal of some immigrants over others because immigration enforcement resources are limited. Since the mid-1990s, previous administrations have focused on removing immigrants with criminal convictions, regardless of whether they have legal residency. Trump’s focus on deporting “criminal aliens” and his suggestion that he might offer reprieve to certain immigrant youth suggest there could be some continuity between his enforcement priorities and those of Obama. But the new president’s emphasis on mass deportation promotes fear. This, in turn, may make noncitizens less likely to apply for naturalization, attend school, seek medical care or challenge violations of labor laws.

President Donald Trump is expected to order the deportation of millions of “criminal aliens” this week. During his campaign, he stated his intention to remove all 11 million “illegal immigrants” from the country, although some may be allowed to return.

However, terms like “criminal aliens” and “illegal immigrants” gloss over the various immigration statuses and histories of millions of individuals. We’d like to offer a more nuanced description of the individuals who may be targeted by President Trump’s immigration enforcement plans.

Our discussion is informed by our research. Since 2014, we have followed the lives of some 50 Southern California immigrants, many of whom either lack or never had legal status in the United States. Each of these individuals has a different story of how and when they came to the United States. Some are related to U.S. citizens and some are not. They have had unique experiences studying, working and living in this country.

And now, these differences could play a major role in how individual immigrants are impacted by the new administration’s enforcement of immigration laws.

Immigrants with criminal convictions
Administrations prioritize the removal of some immigrants over others because immigration enforcement resources are limited. Since the mid-1990s, previous administrations have focused on removing immigrants with criminal convictions, regardless of whether they have legal residency. The Trump administration may prioritize some of the same groups. However, Trump may be more aggressive in defining who is eligible for deportation.

Trump has pledged that his administration will rapidly deport 2 to 3 million “criminal aliens.” His website cites a 2013 Center for Immigration Studies report for this figure. Immigration scholars have suggested the actual number is significantly lower. For example, in 2015, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute reported there are 820,000 unauthorized immigrants with criminal convictions in the U.S. Many were charged with misdemeanors or unlawful entry.

This is unsurprising. Research from criminologists shows that immigration actually lowers the rates of violent crimes.

Trump, however, has signaled that the category of “criminal aliens” may be much broader than individuals convicted of serious crimes. It may include individuals arrested, but not convicted, or individuals with unsubstantiated gang affiliations. But even this incredibly broad definition of criminal aliens does not cover all immigrants.

There are three other broad groups of individuals who generally fall outside of this priority deportation category.