Donald Trump said Tuesday he’s open to “softening” his stance on deporting illegal immigrants with deep ties to the U.S., adding still more confusion to where the GOP presidential nominee stands on one of the core issues he rode to victory in this year’s primaries.
Mr. Trump said he’s going to build a border wall — “It’s going to happen, 100 percent” — and said he’ll do it “almost immediately” after claiming the White House. He also said, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, that he would enforce existing laws that require most illegal immigrants to be excluded from the U.S. or removed when they are found.
But when Mr. Hannity asked if there could be some leniency for those who’d been in the U.S. a long time and had children here and maintained other ties to the country, Mr. Trump signaled an opening of sorts.
“There certainly can be a softening, because we’re not looking to hurt people … but we’re going to follow the laws of this country,” he said.
He said allowing illegal immigrants to jump the line and get on a path to status displaces those who did it the right way and are already waiting.
Mr. Trump had planned a speech Thursday laying out more details of his immigration plans, but has since postponed that, with his campaign saying he’s listening to many different people as he tries to craft his policy.
Early in the primary, Mr. Trump put out a fairly comprehensive immigration plan calling for tripling the number of interior enforcement agents, imposing a requirement that businesses have to check applicants’ work status before they can be hired, canceling federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities, and deporting all criminal aliens agents apprehend.
That policy did not explicitly call for deportation of all illegal immigrants, though when asked on the campaign trail Mr. Trump has repeatedly said they “have to go.”
Now that the primary campaign is over, however, Mr. Trump appears to be looking beyond his GOP base and toward general election voters, who according to pollsters are less strict on the immigration issue. Latino voters in particular tell pollsters they personally know illegal immigrants — often-times in their own families — and legalizing them is a top election priority.
Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said the one certain part of his plan will be that illegal immigrants with criminal records will be at the forefront of deportation efforts. That, however, is the same as President Obama’s deportation policy, which Mr. Trump has roundly criticized, and GOP voters are likely to demand more than that.
Speaking earlier on Fox News, Mrs. Conway told Greta Van Susteren that Mr. Trump’s policy would be to enforce the law, remove “the criminals,” and then “find a humane and effective way to address the issue that 11 million-plus live among us.”
Immigrant-rights groups discounted Mr. Trump’s overtures, saying they don’t believe he can soften his stance and saying he’s disqualified himself by his comments earlier in the campaign blaming Mexico for sending rapists and other bad elements to the U.S.