Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — who has built his campaign on calling immigrants rapists and criminals, promising to round them up and deport them, and pledging to erect a border wall to keep them out — is now attempting to moderate his harsh position on immigration.
Trump claims he’ll take a “humane and efficient” approach to dealing with the country’s undocumented immigrant population. In a two-part town hall conversation that began Tuesday night, Trump offered a softer approach to immigration enforcement.
“There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump said. “We want people — we have some great people in this country.”
He also suggested he won’t categorically remove every undocumented immigrant in the country, questioning the usefulness of deporting people with long-standing ties to their community.
“So you have somebody who’s been in the country for 20 years, has done a great job, and everything else,” Trump said. “Do we take him and the family and her and him or whatever and send him out?”
Pulling back on a hardline immigration stance comes as Trump is attempting to make amends with minority voters, following months of unfavorable coverage and falling poll numbers. But don’t be fooled. While Trump may be shifting on some specific aspects of his immigration policy plan, it’s hardly a radical departure from his campaign’s fundamental orientation.
First of all, it’s unlikely that Trump will make a 90-degree hard pivot on his anti-immigrant platform because he could lose white nationalist voters. A July poll found that American voters are worried about immigrants mostly because they have racialized fears of crime and terrorism, with people more concerned about immigration from non-European countries. What’s more, Trump’s advisers include immigration hardliners like Breitbart’s head of news and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
And ultimately, contrary to media reports that this softened rhetoric may signal a big change for Trump, he actually has a pattern of mixing seemingly toned-down comments with nativist views. Below is a timeline of Trump’s unchanging commitment to enforce harsh immigration policies:
JUNE 2015: Trump wants to build a wall to prevent drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.
At his campaign launch announcing he would seek the Republican presidential nomination, Trump set the tone for his anti-immigrant candidacy by claiming that undocumented immigrants coming across the southern U.S. border were rapists, drug dealers, and criminals.
He admitted that some immigrants “are good people” before adding that the border guards he spoke with only saw the former groups of people.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
AUGUST 2015: Trump says he’ll “keep families together” while tripling the number of federal immigration agents.
Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he would deport the undocumented population, but claimed he would also keep families together.
“We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go,” he said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “They have to go. Chuck, we either have a country, or we don’t have a country.”
At the same time, Trump signaled that he favors increasing the federal agents currently responsible for breaking up families by conducting immigration raids and rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation. In the same month, Trump released a policy paper calling to “triple the number of ICE officers,” currently hovering around 5,000, which would be in part funded by “eliminating tax credit payments to illegal immigrants.”
SEPTEMBER 2015: Trump advocates the “humane” mass deportation plan used by President Eisenhower that was widely condemned for human rights abuses.
During an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Trump said that he would round up undocumented immigrants in a “very humane way” — much like President Dwight Einsenhower did in the 1950s by sending Mexicans back across the border in intense desert heat under Operation Wetback.
“We’re rounding them up in a very humane way, a very nice way,” Trump said. “Did you like Eisenhower? Did you like Dwight Eisenhower as a president at all? He did this. He did this in the 1950s with over a million people, and a lot of people don’t know that…and it worked.”
Operation Wetback resulted in the deaths of dozens of immigrants who were sent to remote places in Mexico in 125 degree heat without access to food or water. Human rights groups refer to it as a “travesty.” The program’s name also comes from a term that is now viewed as a derogatory racial slur.
NOVEMBER 2015: Trump says he’ll use a “humane deportation force” to round up undocumented immigrants.
“You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely, and you’re going to bring the country — and, frankly, the people, because you have some excellent, wonderful people, some fantastic people that have been here for a long period of time,” Trump told MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.
DECEMBER 2015: Trump calls for a “total” ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, then says it won’t apply to famous people.
Shortly after Trump called to spy on mosques and establish a database to track all Muslims living in the United States — extremely problematic policies targeting a religious minority — he also called to halt all Muslim immigration to the country. The Trump campaign soon clarified that this ban would apply to tourists, refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” according to a Trump press release.
Later that month, Trump attempted to soften his stance, emphasizing that he supports a temporary ban that includes exemptions for well-known people like athletes and foreign diplomats. “Oh, certainly exceptions can be made,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon. “We’re not going to say, ‘You can’t come into the country.’”
JANUARY 2016: Trump’s first television ad promises to make America great at the expense of immigrants.
In his first television ad, Trump promised to “make America great again” by issuing a temporary shutdown of Muslim immigration and promising to build a border wall paid for by Mexico. In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump said the ad was aimed at showing undecided voters that the United States has become “a dumping ground” for immigrants.
When Washington Examiner’s Byron York asked the candidate if there was room for negotiation on his harsh mass deportation and Muslim ban policies, Trump dug in deep, saying that these are “very strong positions” of his.
“You look at illegal immigration and all that’s taking place with respect to illegal immigration, whether it’s the crime or the economy, I mean, it affects many different elements,” Trump said. “It doesn’t mean I’m hard and fast 100 percent, but we to get a lot of what I’m asking for, or we’re not going to have a country any more…It doesn’t mean you’re not going to negotiate a little bit, but I guess there will always be some negotiation. But they are very strong positions, and I would adhere to those positions very strongly.”
MARCH 2016: Trump claims he’s “changing” on immigration policy, says high-skilled immigrants should be allowed to stay.
“I’m changing,” Trump said during a Republican debate in March, explaining that he wanted to keep Ivy League students with “brainpower” in the country who would otherwise “get shoved out.”
He added, “We need highly-skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them.”
There are many well-accomplished immigrants — including those who are undocumented — who do in fact have Ivy League degrees, but this policy proposal fails to take into account the millions of other undocumented immigrants who contribute to the American economy in separate but equally crucial ways.
APRIL 2016: Trump threatens to block immigrants from sending money back to Mexico to feed and house their families.
Trump won’t drop his idea for a border wall, putting out a policy proposal that threatened to coerce Mexico into paying $5 to $10 billion for the wall by blocking billions of dollars in money transfers — also known as remittances — that immigrants living in the United States send back to Mexico.
Immigrants with families living in Mexico send about $1,900 every year to help reduce immediate poverty. These funds provide basic food and shelter.
JUNE 2016: Trump says he has the “biggest heart of anybody,” but still supports banning Muslims from entering the country.
Speaking with Bloomberg News, Trump said that he would restrict immigrants from countries affected by terrorism, often a thinly veiled code word for Muslim immigrants and Middle Eastern countries.
“I want terrorists out. I want people that have bad thoughts out. I would limit specific terrorist countries and we know who those terrorist countries are,” Trump told the publication.
In the same interview, he also claimed he would not commit to the mass deportation of immigrants living in the United States. “President Obama has mass deported vast numbers of people — the most ever, and it’s never reported. I think people are going to find that I have not only the best policies, but I will have the biggest heart of anybody,” Trump said.
AUGUST 19, 2016: Trump releases ominous ad attacking refugees and undocumented immigrants as dangerous people.
One day ahead of a meeting with Latino leaders, Trump released an ad suggesting that immigrants are dangerous and should be barred from the country, depicting people who are presumably immigrants in handcuffs.
“Syrian refugees flood in,” an ominous voice narrates on screen. “Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay, collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line. Our border open, it’s more of the same, but worse.”
AUGUST 20, 2016: Trump’s campaign shoots down rumors that he’s changing his stance on immigration reform.
During Trump’s first meeting with his Hispanic advisory council last weekend, attendees told Buzzfeed News that Trump reportedly wanted to pursue a “humane and efficient” immigration policy that deals with both border security and the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Some attendees told the publication that Trump was even interested in a plan to deal with the undocumented population in a “legal way” that could open the door for them to stay in the country.
There were a lot of headlines about Trump’s apparent shift. But a member of Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee director of Hispanic communications who attended the meeting both later disputed that account, saying that Trump said nothing at the meeting “that he hasn’t said many times before.”
AUGUST 22, 2016: Trump postpones big speech on immigration policy, keeps fearmongering about immigrants being criminals.
Trump initially planned to deliver a speech this week that was widely expected to signal a softened stance on immigration, and potentially even outline a legal path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.
He continued to remain mum about specifics of his position on Monday morning, telling Fox News, “we want to come up with a fair but firm process.” When asked whether Trump still supported a deportation task force, his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN that the plan was “to be determined.”
Later that day, however, he canceled the speech without any explanation.
Confirmed: @alivitali reports that Trump's planned Denver immigration speech is now postponed. Will not be this week. No reason given.
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) August 22, 2016
By Monday afternoon, Fox News was promoting a two-night town hall event with Trump, featuring “victims” who will “share their firsthand horror stories” about being targeted by immigrants and immigration officers who will “sound off” about border security.
On Monday night, Trump took a page out of President Obama’s existing immigration policies, vowing to deport “bad people” and gang members, while allowing some immigrants to go through an as yet undefined “process.”