Since day one of his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump has consistently promised to deport undocumented immigrants and build a giant, expansive wall along the southern U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump has also surrounded himself with anti-immigration hardliners, some of whom may play prominent roles in his administration.
He just hired white nationalist Steve Bannon, a man who once claimed that immigrants contribute to “the collapse of traditional values,” as his chief strategist. He’s sought out immigration policy advice from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — the architect of Arizona’s stringent SB 1070 law, which normalized racial profiling of Latinos — who warned on Tuesday that “no person living here illegally gets a free pass.” And he’s considering anti-immigrant Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for a cabinet position.
Yet now that Trump will be the next president, some Republican leaders outside his circle are attempting to downplay the harsh, anti-immigrant rhetoric that helped propel Trump’s campaign to victory.
On Tuesday, Dr. Ben Carson, an informal adviser working on the Trump transition, said on a conference call that the president-elect would “stick with the spirit of what he said, maybe not the letter of what he said” for the campaign promises he made.
“For instance, the part about building the wall — what he really wants to do is secure the border,” Carson said, according to audio obtained by Blue Virginia. “And there’s a variety of ways of doing that. But the point being that we’re going to make sure that gets done… Those principles will be followed, but it may not necessarily be exactly the letter of the law.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to walk back Trump’s immigration plan on Sunday, saying that the president-elect had no plans to “erect a deportation force” to round up undocumented immigrants, but that he would instead focus on border security. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) also hedged Sunday, saying that both Trump and House Republicans would focus on border security rather than mass deportation.
“The one common ground that everybody is going to find is securing the border,” McCarthy said, adding that Trump would still go after those “who have broken felonies.”
Trump himself, however, has done little to walk back on harsh proposals that would affect immigrants and their U.S. citizen families. In August, he said that he would take a “humane and efficient” approach to deport immigrants. Mere hours after Ryan’s comments, Trump clarified on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he would had accept double fencing in some places along the southern border. Yet in the same breath, he put a rough estimate of the first wave of deportations or incarceration at two to three million immigrants.
Trump has previously relied on Republican leaders to soften his campaign promises without actually having to do it himself. After saying that he would call for a complete and total shutdown on Muslim immigration, for example, he refined his statements to include a serious restriction of immigration from terror-prone countries. Still, he never moved away from the proposal, relying instead on prominent advisers like Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to say that he had “pivoted away” from the Muslim ban and advisor Paul Manafort who said Trump had “already started moderating” on the ban.