TruMpISSION Impossible: Deportation


This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will look at some of the campaign promises made by Donald Trump in his run-up to November 8, 2016. I will be taking a “by the numbers” look at ideas ranging from immigration and border security to trade and infrastructure. I will not be taking a position on whether these are good ideas or bad ideas – this is not a normative analysis. Instead, I will be outlining the feasibility and the economic consequences of several potential policies. In economics, we call this a “positive analysis” – that doesn’t mean it is optimistic, only that the analysis leaves judgment about good versus bad policy to the reader.

These are also only potential policies – Trump is not yet President and has yet to articulate a coherent action plan for any of these ideas. For all we know, they may end up being the same sort of campaign rhetoric that George H. W. “Read My Lips” Bush was using when he promised “No New Taxes.” I begin with deportation.

Whatever label you want to put on the foreign-born residents of the United States who do not have visas, green cards or citizenship papers, the idea of deporting all illegal aliens has been around for a more than a decade – it isn’t something Donald Trump invented to win votes. A 2006 bill in the House of Representatives, championed by Tom Tancerdo (R-CO, 1979-2009) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI since 1979) attempted to stop the flow of migrants, expel millions and construct a fence along the Mexican border – sound familiar? President George W. Bush was adamantly opposed to any legislative proposal that included mass deportation. “…[W]e’re talking about human beings – decent human beings that need to be treated with respect,” he told the Orange County Business Council in California at the time.

In his 2007 State of the Union address, George Bush addressed the issue again, saying: “It is neither wise nor realistic to round up and deport millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.” Subsequently, The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) was introduced in the United States Senate on May 9, 2007. It was never voted on. After several amendments, the Senate failed 34-61 to end debate and call for a vote. A related bill (S. 1639) failed 46-53 on June 28, 2007.

Being a numbers nerd, my initial thought in 2006 was: are there even enough buses available in the United State that could take 11 million people to Mexico?

A typical school bus in the US holds about 55 people (without luggage or a toilet). On most school days in the US, there are over 480,000 school buses transporting more than 25 million students to school. Allowing room equivalent to one-half person each for luggage, you would need approximately 300,000 buses or 62.5% of the buses in use.

Let’s assume you take everyone to the national capital, Mexico City. You don’t just want to dump 11,000,000 people at the border – that would be a recipe for disaster if they decided to walk back in en mass! Assuming some of the schools are private or semi-private and could not (easily) be coerced by government to relinquish their buses, you would need to count on getting a little more than one-half of all the school buses in the US to move 11,000,000 people.

The drive from Bangor, Maine to Mexico City would take 51 hours. Assuming driving 9 hours/day, including 3 1-hour breaks for meals, that drive would take almost 9 days each way. The buses would be unavailable to take children to school for almost 3 weeks. There are no fall, spring or holiday breaks during the school year that would accommodate such a long period of time without buses to take children to school. Still, it might work if you did it during the summer, although many schools run summer sessions and use school buses for summer educational events.

The real impossibility is that there are 14,000 school districts in the US, each with an independent structure of authority (principal, school board, etc.). It might be tempting to think you could just work out a deal with 50 states who could then dictate participation to the school districts, but there are also private and semi-private schools.

An alternative might be to use buses from public transportation systems, all of which would be under the control of government authorities. According to the American Public Transportation Association ( there are 1,078 bus public transportation systems in the United States (2011 date) operating 67,288 vehicles. The 300,000 bus-trips required to deport illegal aliens would require each bus to make about 4.5 trips each – meaning they would not be available to provide regular public transportation services for 81 days (or nearly 3 months). For those 3 months, about 7 million American workers would have to find another way to get to work.

TruMpISSION Impossible!

Susanne Trimbath, Ph.D. is CEO and Chief Economist of STP Advisory Services. Dr. Trimbath’s credits include appearances on national television and radio programs and the Emmy® Award nominated Bloomberg report Phantom Shares. She appears in four documentaries on the financial crisis, including Stock Shock: the Rise of Sirius XM and Collapse of Wall Street Ethics and the newly released Wall Street Conspiracy. Dr. Trimbath was formerly Senior Research Economist at the Milken Institute. She served as Senior Advisor on United States Agency for International Development capital markets projects in Russia, Romania and Ukraine. Dr. Trimbath teaches graduate and undergraduate finance and economics.

Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons