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UC Davis expert weighs Trump plan to deport illegal immigrants

A Border Patrol agent walks on the U.S. side of a fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, background, and San Diego.
A Border Patrol agent walks on the U.S. side of a fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, background, and San Diego. Associated Press file

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to crack down on the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, saying he would immediately deport as many as 3 million people he says have committed crimes. Trump has also criticized one of President Barack Obama’s signature immigration initiatives – an executive order that protects about 750,000 young people, known as DACA recipients, brought to the United States as children and allows them to obtain work permits.

Since the election, many immigrants have said they’re terrified of deportation and advocates have discussed what can be done to prevent it. One of the nation’s top immigration law experts, UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin R. Johnson, analyzed several scenarios, including a potential pardon by Obama. Johnson, who served on Obama’s Immigration Policy Group, contributes to http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/immigration and http://www.scotusblog.com.

Q. Could Obama protect undocumented immigrants before he leaves office by issuing them pardons?

A. It’s not legally impossible. Immigration law professors are of two minds. It would be unprecedented to pardon all (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) recipients. We do know individual presidential pardons have been controversial. Bill Clinton pardoned some securities law violators. Obama has deported over 2 million people and pardons are generally for crimes that have been committed. The Obama administration has taken the position that pardons are not possible.

Q. What could happen to the DACA kids, a third of whom are in California?

A. The hope was that DACA would be reimplemented and they could apply for renewed work authorization. Now the indication is that that’s not going to happen, which will have a huge impact on college students who have been eligible for the work study they need to stay in school. The problem is the school may not be able to employ them without it. That’s still an open question.

We have several hundred DACA kids at UC Davis and several hundred more on each of the UC campuses, and there’s lots of worry, stress and tension. It’s not a time to panic. The worst-case scenario is Trump dismantles it immediately, revokes all DACA recipients and their work authorization, and takes all the information and tries to deport them. I think that’s highly unlikely, but that’s the scenario that some DACA recipients are worried about. They were told there were some risk if the program was dismantled, and some students who were eligible decided not to apply.

Q. If the new administration moves quickly, how soon could people be deported and what are their rights?

A. Trump has said he doesn’t believe in catch and release, so he might use detention centers until their removal proceedings are held, and that could take months or even years. They could be stuck in the county jail in Yuba County used to hold immigrants facing deportation, or detention centers in Arizona. That’s why the stock for private detention facilities that often do the work of the federal government is going sky high.

If you get put in detention, you can try to bond out. The Obama administration is moving to limit detention. There are incentives to agree to voluntary departure. But many DACA recipients raised in America are very distant from their native countries.

The Center for American Progress has estimated the cost to deport 11.3 million people at $10,070 per person, or more than $114 billion. Detention is very expensive, so they’re thinking about alternatives such as ankle bracelets. On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear Jennings v. Rodriguez on the limits of government detention of immigrants. The 9th Circuit has said you have to have bond hearings every six months and can only detain people who are dangerous to public safety or a flight risk, while the Obama administration is arguing there should be no limit on detention. The case takes increased significance due to Trump’s promise to detain everyone.

Q. How do you see this playing out?

A. Trump said he was going to focus first on criminal aliens, and Obama did that. Politically, it could be a disaster for any administration to go after DACA students, who are organized and have become one of the most interesting political movements of the last 20 years. Everybody filled out a form that said the information was only going to be used for relief and not removal purposes. DACA students and their supporters would march throughout the country, saying the government lied at the highest levels at a time when we should focus on integrating immigrants. So-called sanctuary cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco – and Mayor (Darrell) Steinberg has said Sacramento – have limits on police inquiries into immigration status because they want the cooperation of immigrants in fighting crime.

I don’t see the Trump administration engaging cities in mass roundups and deportations. The last time that happened was during the Depression, when the so-called Repatriation (Program) rounded up and deported around a million Mexican immigrants (many of them U.S. citizens). It’s been called “the decade of betrayal.”

Trump has also talked about zeroing out all Syrian refugees, even though Obama has authorized 110,000 new refugees in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Those numbers are already in the pipeline.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini

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