Q: How much would Trump’s mass deportation order cost? Skip to content

Q: How much would Trump’s mass deportation order cost?

The Know-Nothings have returned with their goal of Make America White Again – except this time, the cost is going to be in the billions.

5 min read
Photo by Majkl Velner / Unsplash

A veteran western Kentucky Democratic activist has a question for MAGA xenophobes salivating over Donald Trump’s promise that if he wins in November, he’ll order “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.”

“Have they thought about how much this would cost?" asked Leslie McColgin, a rural Graves countian who's co-leader of Four Rivers Indivisible, a regional  branch of the national Indivisible organization.

Trump, echoing the nativist Know-Nothings of old, has been railing against “illegal immigrants” since he announced his presidential candidacy in 2015. He’s called them “animals.” He’s said migrants from Haiti and African nations came from “shithole countries.” He’s said “illegals” are “poisoning the blood” of the U.S., meaning the blood of white folks. The “illegals” Trump wants to kick out are black and brown.

It is well-documented that Adolf Hitler, who ordered the murder of six million European Jews, said Jews were poisoning the blood of Aryan Germans. Yet, Trump denied he was parroting Germany’s Nazi dictator. (Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims when he was president, according to The Washington Post, and he is still torturing the truth.)

He told sympathetic far-right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt that he knew “nothing about Hitler,” wasn’t “a student of Hitler” and had “never read his works.” Believe that? See me about some prime oceanfront property in Kansas.

McColgin doubts that pointing out the racist inhumanity of Trump’s deportation plan will change many MAGA hearts and minds. Instead, she suggested challenging them to ponder “the enormous cost and logistics of rounding them up, putting them in camps, and deporting them.”

McColgin said she hasn’t seen much in the media about the invariably huge price tag on Trump’s plan. Neither have I, but I did some digging and found online a report from the Center for Migration Studies of New York. The report showed that the scheme would cost taxpayers and the federal government billions of dollars.

The report said that “undocumented workers contribute as much as 6 billion tax dollars to the federal government each year, which would be lost under Trump’s plan. They also pay $12 billion into the Social Security system each year, which helps underwrite a system which could be at risk of collapsing over the next decade.”

The report doesn't put a dollar figure on the bill for expelling almost 11 million people – Trump's goal. But the total “would be significant, even in the context of a multi-trillion dollar federal budget.” Nine years ago, when Trump first called for a mass deportation program, “experts estimated that it would cost half a trillion dollars, even without involving the military. Trump also would use the military, National Guard, and state and local police to conduct enforcement, which would have a high price tag. And the costs of erecting ‘tent camps’ and using military aircraft to deport people to their countries would take a chunk out of the Pentagon budget.”

Concluded the report: “It is clear that Trump’s plan would go against the interests of the United States on many levels. Instead of launching a plan to deport the undocumented, the United States should provide them a path to citizenship and allow the majority to remain and continue to contribute to the economy and culture of the United States. In addition, resources should be directed toward modernizing our legal immigration system and toward apprehending immigrants who are a threat to the United States. Finally, the United States should also work with sending countries, especially in this hemisphere, to address the root causes of flight, the only long-term solution to irregular migration. It is time to move away from costly, inhumane, and failed enforcement-only policies, and create a US immigration system which honors due process and creates a more orderly process for immigration to our country.”

Trump is hardly the first white Protestant politician to demonize immigrants.  He has resurrected the hate and fear-mongering of the Know-Nothings, a white, Protestant nativist party that made a big splash nationally — including in Kentucky — in the mid-19th century. 

The Know-Nothings were officially the American Party. Members were called “Know-Nothings” because they were supposed to reply — like Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes — “I know nothing” to an inquiry about the party from a possibly hostile newspaper reporter or any suspicious stranger.

Neo-Know-Nothing Trump focuses his demagoguery, nativism, and xenophobia on immigrants of color, many of them Muslims and Hispanics. Catholic German and Irish immigrants were the chief objects of Know-Nothing disaffection. Party members pledged “Eternal hostility to Foreign and Roman Catholic influence!”

Overwhelmingly white Kentucky, many of whose citizens are rural, conservative Protestant evangelicals, if not Christian nationalists, is one of the reddest Republican red states. It was also a Know-Nothing bastion. In the 1855 spring municipal elections, Know-Nothings took control of city governments in Louisville, Lexington, and Covington. In the August state elections, voters made Know-Nothing Charles S. Morehead governor. At the same time, Know-Nothings captured both houses of the General Assembly and claimed six of the state’s 10 U.S. House seats, the Kentucky Encyclopedia says.

Know-Nothing nativism and xenophobia led to bloodshed in Louisville on Aug. 6, 1855, the state election day. Know-Nothing mobs rampaged through German and Irish immigrant neighborhoods in Louisville, murdering, beating, burning, and looting. At least 19 men were killed, according to the Encyclopedia. The violence went down in history as “Bloody Monday.”

Ultimately, the Know-Nothings faded away and ended up on the trash heap of history, where they belonged. There’s plenty of room for Trump and his MAGA movement, too.

Trump’s plan reminded Genevieve Nadeau, an ex-Department for Homeland Security attorney, of more recent history: “Trump is following the 20th-century dictator’s playbook of dehumanizing vulnerable groups in order to isolate them and justify cruelty by the state. He’s backing up his rhetoric by threatening to invoke extreme and novel legal tools to effectuate an agenda of inhumanity on a scale we haven’t seen for generations. We should expect him to follow through on his pledges.”

If he does follow through, the world will watch as armed soldiers and police fan out across the country, dragging families from their homes, herding them into trucks, buses, and vans, and hauling them away to fenced camps with armed guards. Trump’s authoritarian and dictator friends may smile approvingly, but our democratic allies will be appalled.

Trump probably won’t care if the rest of the free world rightly and roundly condemns him for carrying out an infamous plan frighteningly reminiscent of the Third Reich.

Days before Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II in 1939, he explained  to his top military brass that, “It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me.”

The Washington Post reported that Stephen Miller, one of Trump's closest and most trusted advisors, told Charlie Kirk, another ultra conservative radio host, that he didn’t “care what the hell happens in this world. If President Trump gets reelected, the border’s going to be sealed, the military will be deployed, the National Guard will be activated, and the illegals are going home.”

Trump's late mother was a Scottish immigrant. His first wife, Ivana, was from Czechoslovakia. His third and current wife, Melania, is from Slovenia. The fact that they were “legal” immigrants isn’t what counts the most with him. It’s their white skin. When he promised to “Make America Great Again,” he meant Make America white again, hence his eagerness to launch the “largest domestic deportation operation in American history.”


Print Friendly and PDF

Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY



All results from Tuesday’s primary

All results from Tuesday’s primary

Here’s a list of all the results from Kentucky’s 2024 primary election that were reported on the Board of Elections site. These include federal, state legislative, and some judges and county attorneys.

Members Public