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What Trump said then and what he says now about immigration

Republican candidate has stated that he could “soften” his controversial position on the issue

Donald Trump said on a TV show last week that he was open to “softening” his position on immigration, especially when it comes to his plan to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. A few hours later, the Republican candidate took the stage at a town hall meeting in Texas to speak to mothers who “lost their children at the hands of illegal immigrants” and repeated his mantra: if he becomes president, he will make Mexico pay for the construction of a wall at the southern border. What is Trump’s real position on the issue?

Donald Trump addresses Hispanics at a rally in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday.
Donald Trump addresses Hispanics at a rally in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday. AP

According to his son and campaign advisor, Eric Trump, his immigration policy is “developing.” What remains constant, however, is the idea of “the wall.” Trump included it in an immigration plan he published last year on his website. The rest is to be determined. More details will come out presumably in upcoming remarks dedicated to this very issue, which Trump considers one of the pillars of his campaign.

The real estate mogul-turned-politician planned to deliver a speech on immigration this Thursday but it has been postponed. No new date has been announced but he is expected to take up the issue sometime next week. Meanwhile, here is a summary of what Trump once said and what he now says about immigration.

Build a wall at the US-Mexican border

In June 2015, Donald Trump launched his candidacy saying that Mexico was sending drugs and rapists across the border. The New York businessman announced his plan to build a great wall along the southern frontier. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall,” he said. This proposal remains the single unchanging element in his immigration policy and he repeats his commitment to it at nearly every public appearance. “A hundred percent,” he said when a Fox News reporter asked him if the wall was still part of his plan. “They’re killing us at the border, they’re killing us on trade; we have a trade deficit with Mexico of close to $60 billion a year. So, right there you can build a wall because the wall’s a fraction of that,” Trump told Sean Hannity in an interview on the ultraconservative TV station. In what has become a classic Trump town hall moment, the real estate mogul reiterates his promise to build that wall and then asks the audience who will pay for it. “Mexico, Mexico,” they shout.

But what does his immigration plan say?

The construction of a wall figures prominently in the immigration plan he published a year ago on his website. It is the only specific point he has offered so far. According to the plan, “a nation without borders is not a nation” and therefore “there must be a wall across the southern border,” and he promises to “make Mexico pay for the wall.” Trump does not mention the northern border with Canada.

Deport 11 million undocumented immigrants

How does one deport 11 million people? “You do it, you do it.” Are you going to have a deportation force? “You're going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it professionally,” Trump said. For months before the start of the Republican primaries, he said once and again that the United States must deport its 11 million undocumented immigrants including families with children who were born on American soil. “They have to go,” he insisted.

But then he started to change his tune in June when he said he would not call his plan “massive deportations” and that his policies will have “a heart.” And now he says he is open to “softening” the laws. “There could certainly be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump said when asked if he would consider changing his policy for those law-abiding immigrants who have been living in the country for years or who have raised American children. “We want people – we have some great people in this country,” he added. Trump then said he “would come out with a decision very soon” about deportations.

What does his plan say about deportations?

Trump does not call for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants in his plan. He only says the United States must deport “the bad ones.” In fact he only mentions deportation once in the text. “All illegal aliens in gangs should be apprehended and deported.” Trump also promises “mandatory return of all criminal aliens” who have been convicted of a crime, a policy already in force under the Barack Obama administration.

The plan also calls for the federal government to defund “sanctuary cities.” Trump promises to pull federal grants from any city that refuses to provide information on undocumented immigrants without a police record. In July, a woman was killed by a stray bullet in San Francisco. Hours later, a Mexican man who had been deported five times was arrested and charged with first degree murder. The Republican candidate has used that incident to support his proposals against undocumented immigrants and “sanctuary cities.” He also invites relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants to speak at his events.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

Other immigration proposals

The Republican presidential candidate’s immigration plan also promises to end birthright citizenship for children born of undocumented parents because “this remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” Trump calls for immigrants apprehended at the border to remain in custody until they are deported. He does not say whether this measure would affect undocumented and sometimes unaccompanied Central American minors who cross the border. The real estate mogul also wants “enhanced” penalties for those who overstay their visas.

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