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3 Reasons to Take Trump’s Threats Seriously 

Trump’s plans for militarized mass deportations go beyond bluster. UUSC and its partners are preparing for any potential contingencies that may happen.

By Josh Leach on May 7, 2024

In an unusual sit-down interview with Time magazine, published on April 30, Donald Trump offered a glimpse into his plans for a hypothetical second term. While doubling down on his threats to reproductive rights and democratic elections, Trump also sketched in the details of his proposal to carry out a militarized mass deportation campaign against the country’s undocumented population. 

By this point in Trump’s career, many Americans have gotten used to dismissing such rhetoric as hot air. As Trump prepares for a potential return to office, however, there are good reasons to think he could well follow through on these plans. Below are three reasons why we should take Donald Trump’s threats in earnest: 

  1. There is historic precedent for Trump’s dangerous proposals. 

Often, when he discusses his plans for mass deportations, Trump invokes a parallel to a mid-20th Century expulsion drive that removed more than a million people to Mexico. This Eisenhower-era mass deportation program—which was brazenly named after a racial slur—not only targeted undocumented people who had worked hard to contribute to U.S. society; it also swept up U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry who had broken no immigration laws. 

By openly invoking a parallel between this discriminatory program and his own planned deportations, Trump seems to endorse this ugly legacy of racism against Hispanic Americans. Since U.S. presidents have carried out such policies in the past, we cannot rule out that Trump would follow through on his plans for a similar massive deportation dragnet that would tear apart families and communities. 

  1. Trump appears to be laying the groundwork for a spurious legal defense of his actions. 

In one of the most disturbing passages in the Time interview, Trump claimed he would rely on the U.S. military to carry out his deportation agenda. The interviewer pointed out in response that federal law forbids the U.S. military from conducting law enforcement on U.S. soil. Trump replied that this statute wouldn’t apply, because—he claims—immigrants “aren’t civilians.” He went on: “This is an invasion of our country.”

This characterization of asylum-seekers as “invaders” is blatantly and obviously wrong—in addition to being dangerously dehumanizing. Why, then, does Trump repeat it? It’s an easy way to rile up the worst elements of his base, for one thing; but he also may be readying a bogus legal argument to defend his use of military force against U.S. civilians. If Trump deploys the military on U.S. soil, his lawyers may argue he is justified by trying to characterize asylum-seekers (however implausibly) as a military threat. 

This is one more reason, therefore, why we have to take Trump’s extreme rhetoric on this issue seriously. He may be choosing these words precisely because he intends to follow through on his threats of militarized mass deportations. 

  1. Trump has done similar things before—and this time, there are fewer guardrails. 

Recent polls show a disturbing number of U.S. voters are open to Trump’s talk of mass deportations. Democratic politicians have likewise drawn from the well of anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent months, threatening to “shut down the border” and implement executive actions that would expel asylum-seekers without a hearing. This shift of opinion within both major parties suggests that the memory of Trump’s first-term actions may be fading. 

Americans would do well to recall what Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda meant in practice, the first time he had a chance to carry it out. Trump overrode the objections of members of his own staff to implement a policy of forced family separations. He banned whole categories of people on the basis of religion and race. He eviscerated protections for women and LGBTQI+ people fleeing violence in their home countries.

Judging from his interview with Time, Trump means to restore such policies and add new, even worse ones on top of them. And a second-term Trump would have more leverage to do so. Accounts of his first administration show that officials at times risked Trump’s ire by shooting down his most extreme proposals for attacking asylum-seekers. A re-elected Trump would have even fewer of these restraints, as he can staff his administration with hand-picked loyalists. 

The U.S. public should therefore think hard before waving aside Trump’s rhetoric as an empty threat. Trump is telling us he will inflict a militarized program of mass deportations, and we should believe him. Then, before we start seeing our fellow U.S. residents being loaded into cattle cars or torn from the arms of their crying children, we should ask ourselves—is that the country we want to be? 

UUSC continues its work to ensure that we are uplifting the human rights and dignity of all. There’s no better time than the present than to donate and help us reimage the world in a way that is much more just and equitable. Donate to our Annual Fund.

Image credit: Potashev Aleksandr – Shutterstock

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