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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde November 15, 2016

Trump misleads in number of criminal immigrants illegally in country

In his first interview after winning the 2016 election, President-elect Donald Trump had to answer whether he would keep his word on his campaign promises or change in any way.

Trump said he wanted to keep a couple provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which he had pledged to repeal, and he said he would be open to a part wall, part fence perimeter along the U.S.-Mexico border instead of a massive concrete structure.

"What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants?," asked CBS' Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes.

"What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we're going to incarcerate," Trump responded. "But we're getting them out of our country, they're here illegally."

Also, after securing the border "and after everything gets normalized," the fate of "terrific people" who remain in the country illegally will be decided, Trump said.

We wondered about Trump’s reference to 2 million to 3 million immigrants with criminal records in the United States illegally.

Trump was referring to a Department of Homeland Security report covering fiscal years 2011-13. That report said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimated there were 1.9 million "removable criminal aliens" in the United States at the time -- not 3 million.

And the report says the 1.9 million total includes immigrants who are here both legally and illegally.

‘Criminal alien’ doesn’t necessarily mean illegal

The term "criminal aliens" is generally used by law enforcement to identify "noncitizens who are residing in the United States legally or illegally and are convicted of a crime."

It is misleading to say the 1.9 million outlined in the DHS report are all here illegally -- though they may be "removable." An individual living in the United States legally may be subject to deportation under certain circumstances, including the conviction of crimes such as cocaine possession.

The report did not specify how many "criminal aliens" are here illegally. An ICE official said the agency was not able to confirm the percentage or number of immigrants in the country illegally with criminal convictions.

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Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank favoring stricter immigration policies, said her research shows the majority of the criminal immigrants are here illegally and backed up Trump’s statement. Trump cited her research during his campaign.

"Based on my review of various sets of data and records from ICE that includes the exact immigration status of sets of ICE removal cases, I am confident in saying that most of this population of criminal aliens is here illegally," Vaughan said of the 1.9 million in the federal report. "Under the law, criminal aliens who at one time had legal status generally would become disqualified for that legal status upon conviction of certain crimes."

Adam Cox, an expert on immigration law and professor at New York University, said a criminal conviction itself does not alter the immigration status of a lawful immigrant, such as a green card holder.

"These immigrants are not stripped of their status the moment they are convicted," Cox said.

If a convicted green card holder is placed in deportation proceedings, he or she would lose the green card only at the end of immigration proceedings if an immigration judge rules that the criminal conviction makes the person deportable, Cox said.

Trump’s claim that "it could be even 3 million" criminal immigrants in the country illegally also surpasses calculations from a group estimating it could be less than 1 million.

The Migration Policy Institute, a think tank analyzing the movement of people and policies that affect them, in July 2015 estimated that 43 percent, or 820,000, of the 1.9 million noncitizens convicted of crimes were unauthorized immigrants. The institute analyzed estimates of the unauthorized population and the number of noncitizens lawfully in the country and estimated that both groups commit crimes at similar rates.

The precise number of unauthorized immigrants convicted of crimes may be higher or lower, with a margin of error in the low tens of thousands, the institute said.

Trump’s plan to deport 2 million to 3 million parallels the number of total immigrants deported under President Barack Obama. More than 2 million people have been deported over the course of Obama’s presidency.

Our ruling

Trump said there are "probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million" criminal immigrants in the country illegally.

Trump’s slightly hedged numbers stem from a federal report that said there are about 1.9 million "removable criminal aliens," but that includes people here legally and illegally. Trump’s claim that it could even be 3 million is based on an assumption.

He's in the ballpark but misses important details. We rate Trump’s statement Half True.

Our Sources

CBS News, Transcript President-elect Donald Trump interview on "60 Minutes," Nov. 13, 2016

Department of Homeland Security, Congressional budget justification FY 2013

Email exchange, Donald Trump campaign, Nov. 14, 2016

Email exchange, ICE official, Nov. 14, 2016

Migration Policy Institute, Understanding the Potential Impact of Executive Action on Immigration Enforcement, July 2015

United States Government Accountability Office, Criminal Alien Statistics, March 2011

Cornell University Law School, 8 U.S. Code § 1227 - Deportable aliens, Prof Adam Cox on What Trump’s Deportation of "Criminals" Might Really Mean, Nov. 13, 2016

Department of Homeland Security, definition of terms: criminal removal

Email interview, Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at Center for Immigration Studies, Nov. 14, 2016

Email interview, Adam Cox, an expert on immigration law and professor at New York University, Nov. 14, 2016

Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Identification of Criminal Aliens in Federal and State Custody Eligible for Removal from the United States, January 2011

Congressional Research Service, Interior Immigration Enforcement: Criminal Alien Programs, Sept. 8, 2016

PolitiFact, Trump right on Obama's deportation numbers, wrong about nobody talking about it, Oct. 21, 2016

Washington Post, Trump’s fuzzy math on undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, Sept. 2, 2016, Trump Repeats ‘Criminal Alien’ Claim, Nov. 14, 2016

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Trump misleads in number of criminal immigrants illegally in country

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