Donald Trump Changed His Stance On Immigration On Live TV

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre, Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner known for espousing harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s doing him no favors among the Latino population, has now slightly softened his position.

“I’m changing,” Trump said in reference to his immigration policy during Thursday night’s GOP debate. “We need highly-skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them.”

Trump made a case for allowing highly educated immigrants to remain in the country.

“One of the biggest problems we have is people go to the best colleges — they’ll go to Harvard, they’ll go to Stanford, they’ll go to Wharton, as soon as they’re finished they get shoved out,” he said. “They want to stay in this country. They want to stay here desperately. They’re not able to stay here. For that purpose, we absolutely have to be able to keep the brainpower in this country.”

Debate moderator Megyn Kelly pressed him on whether he abandoned the policy position on his website, which pledges to enforce the mass deportation of the undocumented population. Trump again responded that he was “softening the position, because we have to have talented people in this country.”

Trump’s policy shift would indeed allow some educated immigrants to contribute to the American economy. There are certainly already people living in the U.S. who fit that narrow criteria, including undocumented immigrants who are currently in medical school, or have done award-winning journalism, or are trying to practice law.

But such a policy plan, which wouldn’t come close to covering the 11.3 million undocumented population, undermines the fact that the country historically has not excluded immigrants based on education level. Trump’s new position would still leave out other immigrants who may not go to Ivy League schools, but are particularly crucial in restaurants or out in the fields where 85 percent of fruits and vegetables are hand-picked by farmworkers.

Trump has appeared to be flexible on the topic of highly educated immigrants before, according to an off-the-record conversation with the New York Times that his opponents have been pressuring him to release. In 2013, he bemoaned not giving legal status to a specific group of bright European individuals who “went to Harvard, top of their class, went to the Wharton School of finance.” And as far back as 2013, Trump met with a group of so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants brought to the country as youths, who swayed him on immigration.

Still, the Republican presidential candidate may be trying to quell some of the inflammatory rhetoric that he’s used in the past, such as accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists who deal drugs or bring crime into the country. His comments are already concerning some Republican strategists who are now issuing cautionary warnings that Republicans could become “irrelevant” if they dig into the harmful criticisms. As one strategist advised Republican activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting this week, “[D]on’t dehumanize people and use this angry rhetoric. Don’t talk to people the way you wouldn’t talk to your family. There’s no silver bullet words, but don’t say bad things. Don’t offend people.”