Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump offered the most detailed account yet of his immigration policy on Wednesday night. That didn’t stop him from trying to muddy the waters on Thursday about his positions.
Appearing on the Laura Ingraham radio show Thursday morning, he went back to using the kind of language that caused speculation that he was open to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
“Where’s the softening?” Ingraham asked him.
“Oh, there’s softening,” he said, reiterating that he would carry out his policies “in a very humane way” and deport gang members, drug dealers and criminals first.
“We’ve got a lot of people in this country that you can’t have, and those people we’ll get out,” Trump said. “And then we’re going to make a decision at a later date once everything is stabilized. I think you’re going to see there’s really quite a bit of softening.”
The fact that he’d say such a thing less than 24 hours after a speech promising strict enforcement, no legal status for undocumented immigrants and efforts to drive them out is pretty brazen. Then again, that’s Trump’s way. He’s spent more than a year making pronouncements on immigration without details, leaving others to fill in the gaps in hopes that voters will think their position is also his.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from the matter: the word “softening” doesn’t mean much of anything. The words “humane” and “fair” don’t either, in this context ― they’re too subjective, a feature Trump is exploiting.
Technically, what Trump said Thursday morning does reflect something he said Wednesday evening ― a throwaway remark that fell outside his central theme. Trump largely talked about enforcement ― mostly in the context of criminals, people considered threats or those who overstayed their visas, but with a clear promise that everyone would remain at constant risk of deportation.
Then, near the end, he gave a tiny nod to someday, maybe, having a different policy on undocumented immigrants.
“In several years, when we have accomplished all of enforcement and deportation goals and truly ended illegal immigration for good, including the construction of a great wall,” he said in the speech, the country will “be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals that remain.”
“That discussion can take place only in an atmosphere in which illegal immigration is a memory of the past, no longer with us, allowing us to weigh the different options available based on the new circumstances at the time,” Trump said.
That’s the “later date once everything is stabilized” he was talking about on Thursday ― and it’s not that soft a position. The bulk of his speech made clear that he would try to drive out as many undocumented immigrants as possible and promised there would be no “amnesty” or legal status for anyone unless they returned to their native countries first, without any guarantee they’d be able to come back.
So who are those undocumented immigrants who would still be around for this post-unauthorized immigration world, several years into a Trump administration, to experience this softer chief enforcer?
If he got his way, hardly anyone.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.