When running for president, Donald Trump promised a presidency of violent xenophobia unparalleled since the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk. He would deport every unauthorized immigrant — who were in his mind 90 percent murderers and rapists from Mexico — all 11 million of them. Then he would build a gigantic wall across the entire southern border, and somehow make Mexico pay for it.
But as president, Trump has proved incapable of the level of organization and discipline required to achieve really grotesque crimes against humanity. So instead, his immigration policy has evolved into simple brute cruelty against helpless immigrant populations who are easy to target.
Trump's failure is pretty easy to understand. To start with, simply moving around lots of people is a huge logistical challenge. Serving as quartermaster for an army of 100,000 people — that is, locating, transporting, housing, feeding, and equipping the troops — is extremely difficult and expensive, and that's for soldiers who wear uniforms and are bound to obey orders. Doing a similar sort of task for two orders of magnitude more unauthorized immigrants — who already try to stay below the radar of the authorities, and will hide when word of the roundup gets around — is dramatically more difficult.
That is pretty obviously beyond the grasp of Trump's ill-staffed and worse-managed executive branch.
Similarly, building the wall — perhaps Trump's signature policy idea — would be an extremely expensive pain in the neck. Two thousand miles of even crummy wire fence would cost millions and millions of dollars, severely compounded by remote, rugged locations and enormous property rights issues.
There's also the problem of the whole wall idea being really stupid in the first place. For starters, nearly half of unauthorized immigration comes from people overstaying visas, not sneaking across the border. Secondly, even a big, strong wall is easy to get over, under, or through for someone with a ladder, rope, or hammer, and 15 minutes to work. That means tens of thousands of guards to make it "work" — and at that point, you might as well not even bother with the wall. And building a transparent wall, as Trump wanted — apparently so border guards won't get hit by "large sacks of drugs" being tossed over it — is just ridiculous. This appears to be sinking in even with Trump himself, as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly implicitly admitted on Fox News, saying that the president's thinking on the wall had "evolved." Despite Trump later insisting otherwise, the administration seems to have given up on the idea.
Unable or unwilling to vigorously pursue his signature policies, the Trump administration has instead indulged whatever casual anti-immigrant viciousness is easiest. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been rooting through churches, farms, convenience stores, and even immigration court proceedings for people to deport. Unlike before he took office, this time there is no particular focus on criminals. Ordinary people without legal status are being deported willy-nilly, shutting down businesses and splitting up families (and sometimes leaving children with no parents).
The deportations have often been deliberately cruel, as when ICE granted a Palestinian businessman a two-week stay to get his affairs in order, allowing him to buy his own plane ticket to leave the country, only to suddenly reverse course and forcibly deport him with no warning.
The 800,000 DREAMers (or people brought to the United States as young children) were as of September going to be forced out of the country without a rather unlikely congressional fix, though legal developments may have resurrected the program for the time being.
Meanwhile, people who had been granted residency under the Temporary Protected Status program are being queued up for mass deportation as well. Nearly 60,000 Haitians, who had been living in the U.S. since the 2010 earthquake, were ordered to prepare to leave in November of last year, while 200,000 El Salvadorans (more than half of whom have been here for over 20 years, and are parents to 190,000 American children) were given the same orders in January.
There is no reason at all to do any of this except to inflict pain on brown people while forcing them out of the country. Contrary to conservative yelps about getting "tough on crime" (which for some reason seem to be coming from credibly accused sex criminals quite a lot these days) this only enables more crime by making immigrant-heavy communities unwilling to speak to the police, lest their friends or family be rounded up by Trump's goons.
All in all, it's a monstrous record, but at least well short of a full-on campaign of a quasi-ethnic cleansing campaign targeting 11 million people. In Trump's America, that counts as something of a victory.