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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton exaggerates by saying Donald Trump plans to deport 16 million people

Donald Trump may be the highest-profile tweeter in political history, but Hillary Clinton isn’t averse to attacking her opponent via Twitter, either.

On Oct. 23, Clinton's campaign account tweeted, "Donald Trump says he'd deport 16 million people. How do you even begin to quantify that?" Attached to the tweet was a short video that offered a comparison of how many sports stadiums would be needed to accommodate 16 million people. (Spoiler alert: It’s larger than the number of pro sports stadiums in the United States -- by a lot.)


But how accurate is Clinton’s statement that Trump "says he'd deport 16 million people"?

That’s less clear.

For starters, we’ll note that Trump has not used the 16 million figure himself in referring to the number of deportations he would oversee as president.

Indeed, the Trump campaign tells PolitiFact that they consider the 16 million number to be incorrect.

"Mr. Trump’s plan does not call for deporting 16 million," said Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung. "It says we will deal with those who are not priorities at a later date."

So where does it come from? We’ve looked at this issue in an earlier fact-check of a statement by Tim Kaine.

The 16 million tally includes two groups of people: those who are in the country illegally (about 11 million) and the U.S.-born children of undocumented parents (about 4.5 million, according to Pew Research Center). Combined, that’s not quite 16 million, but it’s reasonably close.

However, even Trump in recent months has backed away from policies that would make the 11 million figure accurate -- and the evidence for the additional 4.5 million figure is in question, too. Let’s take a closer look.

The 11 million figure

Complicating this fact-check is that Trump has not been consistent on immigration throughout his campaign.

Leading up to the primaries, Trump said he wanted undocumented families to stay together, but "they have to go."

In a September 2015 interview on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley asked Trump what he would do with 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally. "If they've done well, they're going out, and they're coming back in legally ... We're rounding 'em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way," Trump said.

In November 2015, a day after one of the Republican primary debates, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC asked Trump, "How do you deport 12 million illegal immigrants?"

"You do it. You do it. Because they're here illegally, you do it," Trump responded.

In that same interview, he said, "you’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely."

All of this suggests that Trump did want to deport 11 million people who are in the United States illegally. But that was the old version of Trump’s plan.


Trump refined his immigration plan a year later, in a major speech on Aug. 31 in Arizona. In that 10-point speech, he reiterated get tough measures, but he also suggested not everyone would be deported.

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Trump started by talking about criminals, saying there would be "zero tolerance for criminal aliens." He said his administration would begin moving them out "Day One," working especially with police and law enforcement who "know who these people are."

His fifth point centered on the enforcement of all immigration laws. The Clinton campaign highlighted this part of the speech to back up Clinton’s debate comments.

"In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced ... As with any law enforcement activity, we will set priorities. But unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement. And ICE and Border Patrol officers will be allowed to do their jobs the way their jobs are supposed to be done. Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise we don't have a country."

But Trump also gave another mixed message within the same speech.

He said that after accomplishing enforcement and deportation goals, after building a wall, ending illegal immigration and establishing a new lawful immigration system, "then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain." That suggests that while every undocumented person could potentially be deported ("subject to deportation"), they won’t all be deported.

Put it all together and you have evidence from a year ago that Trump would deport the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States illegally, but less support for that conclusion in his more recent comments. That’s a problem for Clinton’s tweet, which said that Trump "says" -- present tense -- that "he'd deport 16 million people"

The 4.5 million figure

It’s only possible to get near 16 million if you include the deportation of people who were born in the United States to parents who were in the country illegally. What has Trump said about that?

Some background: The 14th Amendment established birthright citizenship says "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

That clause of the amendment is widely understood to mean that everyone born on U.S. soil is automatically an American citizen, despite parents’ immigration status.

Trump hasn’t talked about birthright citizenship and "anchor babies" much since the heyday of the GOP primary. In November 2015, Trump said a constitutional amendment would not be needed to deal with the citizenship of children born in the United States to undocumented parents.

"You need an act of Congress. You don't have to go through a new amendment or anything, a new constitutional amendment," Trump said November 2015 in an MSNBC interview. "But anchor babies. A woman is pregnant; she goes over to the border, has a baby on our land, now we take care of the baby for the next 85 years."

Trump also said several times in 2015 that he does not think citizenship should have been granted to people with undocumented parents.

The Clinton campaign points to an August 2015 exchange between Trump and host Bill O'Reilly, who asked, "Illegal immigrant mother and father living in Los Angeles, two children who are American citizens, born here.  If you're president do you order authorities to take that family into custody?"

Trump answered, "We have no choice. I'm sorry, Bill. We have to bring them out."

Trump's responses to similar questions were also vague. In another August 2015 interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, he said undocumented parents would have to leave and unless they were "bad" parents they would take their baby with citizenship with them.

And in a town hall with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Aug. 25, 2016, Trump was asked, "No birthright citizenship, correct?" Trump replied, "Right."

Trump’s campaign has not clarified his current position on birthright citizenship. His call for an end to birthright citizenship is no longer prominently featured in the immigration reform section of Trump’s campaign website.

But even if it were accurate to say that Trump supports a change in birthright citizenship -- something he has not been consistent about -- he would still need to to strip citizenship from those who already have it, and then deport them. And that would invite even more legal challenges than trying to remove or alter the 14th Amendment.

"Such a retroactive statute would clearly be far more controversial than merely changing the rules prospectively," David A. Martin, an immigration, constitutional law and international law scholar and professor emeritus at the University of Virginia School of Law, previously told PolitiFact.

So, getting to 16 million requires believing that, first, Trump supports revoking birthright citizenship for those who already have it; second, that he could enact it despite substantial constitutional hurdles; and third, that he would then proceed to deport all 4.5 people who fall into that category. That’s a lot of what-ifs.

Our ruling

Clinton tweeted, "Donald Trump says he'd deport 16 million people."

While Trump has certainly offered his share of hard-line stances on immigration, Clinton’s comment exaggerates his position in several ways. First, Trump didn’t use the 16 million figure himself. Second, while Clinton phrases her tweet in the present tense, her case is weaker now than it would have been a year ago, based on what Trump has said and posted on his website in recent months.

Finally, counting the last 4.5 million people needed to get within shouting distance of Clinton’s 16 million figure requires an unlikely cascade of events that Trump’s campaign today says he isn’t seeking to set off. We rate the statement Half True.

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Hillary Clinton exaggerates by saying Donald Trump plans to deport 16 million people

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