Big business warns Trump against mass deportation

Published 7:55 am Friday, December 9, 2016

WASHINGTON — Still grappling with Donald Trump’s surprise election, the nation’s business community has begun to pressure the president-elect to abandon campaign-trail pledges of mass deportation and other hardline immigration policies that some large employers fear would hurt the economy.

The push, led by an advocacy group backed by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is still in its infancy as the business world struggles to understand the tough-talking Trump’s true intentions on an issue that defined his outsider campaign. Some groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are holding off, doubtful that Trump will actually create a deportation force, as he suggested before his election, to expel those estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

But others are assembling teams of public officials and industry leaders on the ground in key states to encourage Trump to embrace a more forgiving immigration policy — in the name of economic development, if not human compassion.

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“This election clearly showed that Americans are wildly frustrated with our broken immigration system,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the New American Economy, a group whose board includes Bloomberg, Murdoch and leaders of business giants Marriott, Disney and Boeing. “But it would be a mistake to equate their desire for someone to secure the border with support for mass deportation or other hardline policies that would both devastate the economy and undermine core American values.”

Robbins’ organization has in recent days unveiled coalitions of business leaders and public officials that oppose an immigration crackdown — many of them Trump supporters — across Utah, California, South Carolina, Florida and Colorado with more coming in Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Backed by its directors’ deep pockets, the group is working to create a permanent infrastructure that will pressure the new administration and members of Congress in key battlegrounds even before the debate officially begins on Capitol Hill.

Trump railed against the dangers of illegal immigration throughout his campaign, several times sharing the stage with parents of children killed by immigrants in the country illegally. He also pledged to build a massive wall across the vast majority of the 2,100-mile border with Mexico. And, early in the campaign, he promised to create “a deportation force” to remove more than 11 million immigrants, although as Election Day approached, he left open the possibility for a pathway to legal status for some who entered the country illegally.

Trump’s transition team declined to answer questions about his immigration plans this week.

He hinted at a softer approach in a Time magazine interview published this week, saying he would “work something out” to help immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children and granted work permits by President Barack Obama. On deportation, Trump told “60 Minutes” shortly after the election that he would prioritize deporting between 2 and 3 million “people that are criminal and have criminal records — gang members, drug dealers.”

Such a plan would largely be in line with the Obama administration’s current policy.