As nearly as I can determine, nobody has drawn a plan for Donald Trump’ s promise to deport the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. But some of its requirements are obvious, at least to residents of Dallas like me.
Hispanics, about 50 million of whom live in the United States, are the most suspect population. Interning all of them, as the U.S. did with the Japanese population during World War II, is impossible because that would confine a sixth of the people who live within the nation’s borders. The only means by which undocumented immigrants can be deported is to catch them before they reach cities like Dallas—which lies 400 miles from the border– and to sort through the whole of the Hispanic population already residing here.
Two tactics for capturing immigrants have been standard procedure for years: roadblocks and raids. On roads near the Rio Grande, Border Patrol officers halt all traffic and quiz people about their immigration status. The procedure inconveniences alien smugglers, but nets a relatively small number of border-crossers because some roadblocks aren’t manned around the clock and others can be evaded by hiking overland.
Though the tactic might be useful in small-town settings, its implementation in urban areas would create havoc. Blocking locking inter-city highways and their feeders for even a few hours would shut down the city as thoroughly as its rare snowstorms do. If the roadblocks were unannounced, the white suburbanites who support Trump wouldn’t be able to drive their kids to school on time, and if announced, wouldn’t work. And as on the border, the moment that roadblocks were set up, word would travel and undocumented immigrants would stay in place until traffic unsnarled. Even Trump’s admirers would soon begin complaining about the inconveniences of life in a police state—because for them, inconveniences imposed by government amount to tyranny.
Immigration raids have often been staged on workplaces. That makes sense at meat-packing plants, for example, because most of them are located in rural zones that can be cordoned off without great disruption to traffic. But they present other problems, even in that setting. The greatest of them is that workers have spouses and children who are not present in the workplace. If a Trump government could deport the workers without their families, such raids would have the logic of starvation on their side. Without an income, spouses might return to the places from which they had come, taking their children—most of whom are native-born American citizens—with them.
In the unlikely event that the border had been sealed, for months or maybe years in the wake of workplace raids, Trump hotels would go unkempt, and with the disappearance of undocumented workers, fast food would turn to slow food and the Donald’s fans would be peeved because they believe that timely, efficient restaurant service is a civil right. Some of them would miss televised football games because they’d have to mow their own lawns—and that’s unthinkable. Keeping up with the Cowboys is a rite so sacred that churches already stagger their services to avoid time conflicts; otherwise, believers would turn their backs on Jesus. Adding lawn care to the mix would be unwieldy and would encourage violations of the Fourth Commandment, which is about keeping the Sabbath holy.
Roadblocks and raids could conceivably be carried out by the doubled or tripled immigration force, now of 20,000, that Trump has proposed. But the pace would be slow. The administration of President Obama in the past seven years set a record by deporting 2.5 million undocumented immigrants. That’s less than 400,000 per year. If that number were tripled by an increase in the immigration force, 10 years of raids and roadblocks would be necessary to accomplish Trump’s aim—and that’s not counting the months or years that would be needed to train an expanded force, nor the two or three years that it would take make concrete the fantasy of an impermeable border wall.
Raids and roadblocks could, of course, become mere auxiliary actions in a scenario in which barrio blockades were key. That would bring the population-sorting strategy into play. Dallas, for example, has population of about 1.2 million. The city is 42 percent Hispanic. That’s about half a million people. Most of them are already confined into ghettos of a few thousand people each, a measure that the Nazis in some cities had to implement from scratch. If a large enough force were thrown in, these districts could be sealed and over a three-day weekend, for example, be combed for aliens, house by house.
But how could a force of thousands be launched? If could perhaps be quartered overnight at Ft. Hood, as Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were in the 1993 siege at Waco’s Mt. Carmel. Dallas lies 150 miles north of Ft. Hood and would be forewarned as soon convoys of the Border Patrol (and maybe soldiers, too) left the base. If the sweep nevertheless led to collaring a mere five percent of the Hispanic population, that’s 25,000 people. Means for deporting them within hours are inconceivable, even by railroad boxcars; internment camps would have to be built. Roadblocks would probably accompany the sweep, and citizen Hispanics would have to be issued passes to allow the economy to gasp for breath. Would they have to wear special insignia on their clothing? Or are branding or implanting computer chips, as with dogs, the only practices that can be trusted to identify the innocent?
Deploying these measures in an anti-immigrant campaign would, of course, presume the suspension of civil liberties for almost everyone who is not obviously white or African-American and a native speaker of English: existing law and lawyers would only get in the way. But it wouldn’t be unprecedented. It has a long heritage. If taken seriously, the effort would visit upon cities from Miami to Chicago to Los Angeles to Laredo a regime of population control whose closest American parallel was the slave-chasing antebellum South. Perhaps the candidate’s slogan should be reworded: Make America Antebellum Again. Its acronym is pronounceable and therefore catchy: