Donald Trump has built his presidential campaign around harsh rhetoric toward immigrants — referring to people who cross the border as “rapists,” pledging to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and promising to round up millions of undocumented immigrants for deportation.
But Trump is now attempting to moderate his position, going back on some of his more hardline stances. During an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on Monday night, the candidate struck a dramatically different tone, promising to implement a “humane” immigration policy that’s essentially exactly what the Obama administration is already doing.
Trump told O’Reilly that he would enforce “existing” federal immigration laws, promising to deport “gang members,” “killers,” and “a lot of bad people,” while allowing other people to “go through the process.”
“The first thing we’re gonna do, if and when I win, is we’re gonna get rid of all of the bad ones,” Trump told O’Reilly. “We’ve got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country.”
Trump even praised the president’s current deportation policies. “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country, Bush the same thing,” he said. “Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m gonna do the same thing.”
Trump also told the Fox News host that he would not make use of detention centers, though it’s as yet unclear where undocumented immigrants would be held if he were to use a deportation task force to round them up.
“I never even heard the term. I’m not gonna put them in a detention center,” he added. “We want to do it in a very humane manner.”
So Trump has repeatedly called for a "deportation force" but tonight tells Bill O'Reilly there will be "no detention centers."
— Brian Walsh (@brianjameswalsh) August 23, 2016
Trump’s attempt to put immigrants into two categories —cracking down on people who have committed crimes, while being more lenient on those who have not — is a shift from his long-standing promise to deport the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants regardless of their records.
This policy mirrors what Obama is already doing. In November 2014, the Obama administration announced a tiered approach to target “felons, not families” through the Priority Enforcement Program, which purportedly focuses on the removal of convicted criminals rather than on deporting people who have long-standing roots in the country.
Though Trump’s recent statements are certainly an attempt to moderate his stance on the issue, immigration advocates wouldn’t agree that Obama — who earned the nickname “Deporter-in-Chief” for having authorized two million deportations between 2009 and 2014 — takes a truly “humane” approach to immigration policy.
Under the Obama administration, even immigrants who have turned their lives around since they committed years-old crimes have been caught up in the deportation dragnet. Take, for example, the Mennonite Pastor Max Villatoro — who was convicted of drunk driving two decades ago, and pleaded guilty in 1999 to record tampering, but later became an upstanding citizen in his Iowan community. He was deported to Honduras last year anyway.
And as recently as the beginning of the year, the administration began terrorizing Latino communities after it authorized a series of immigration raids targeting some Central American mothers and children who fled their home countries after January 2014. Hundreds of Central Americans were arrested in their homes, on their way to school, outside of church, and even pulled out of cars as their children watched from the backseat.
It’s unclear where Trump’s immigration policy will end up landing. At a rally in Akron, Ohio on Monday night, Trump assured the crowd that he would still build a wall across the southern U.S. border paid for by Mexico.