Differences between the Obama and Trump administrations' policies on undocumented workers


President Donald Trump has used harsh, often racist language to describe undocumented immigrants. In a now-infamous speech on June 6, 2015, Trump said, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best... They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists." And he was deeply critical of President Barack Obama, whom he described as "very weak on illegal immigration."

But if Trump differs from Obama on immigration policy, the difference is mostly one of degree.

David Zalubowski/AP

Most immigrants deported under Obama didn't have criminal convictions

Obama repeatedly said that his administration would focus on undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions — "felons, not families," as he put it. But the data tell a different story. 

Roughly 60% of those deported under Obama had no criminal conviction, or their only crime was entering the country illegally, data analyzed by The Marshall Project show.

Under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security appears to be following a similar pattern. In a fact sheet released Tuesday, the department said it "will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement," but "those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States." 

As under Obama, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense," the fact sheet said.

There are a few important differences between Obama and Trump on immigration, however.

Yuri Cortez/AFP

Trump's key changes

Trump will expand the so-called "expedited removal" program. Since 2004, undocumented immigrants arrested within 100 miles of the southern border who had been in the country no longer than two weeks could be deported without going before an immigration judge. He will alter the program to cover immigrants anywhere in the U.S. who have been in the country for up to two years.

The president appears to be ramping up the scale of enforcement across the board. In January, Trump vowed to hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and, as part of his recently halted executive order on immigration, the president ordered DHS to build new facilities along the southern border to house detained immigrants.

Trump plans to also empower local law enforcement to assist with immigration law enforcement, effectively allowing local police to act as ICE agents. The program, called 287(g), was dialed back under Obama. According to the New York Times, on Tuesday, New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters, "We will not... turn our NYPD officers into immigration agents." Other mayors of so-called "sanctuary cities" have said they won't comply with Trump's orders to crack down on undocmented immigrants.

Finally, Trump will reverse the Bush-era directive that gives undocumented immigrants detained by DHS certain privacy rights.