After a slew of primary victories on Super Tuesday, Donald Trump held a press conference in which he gave himself some more wiggle room on the issue of deporting undocumented immigrants from this country.
Here's a transcript of the reporter's question and the GOP front-runner's answer, from West Palm Beach, Florida:
REPORTER: Would you consider allowing the people you've said you would bring back into the country, would you allow them to stay in the country, without having them leave the country first?
TRUMP: At this moment, absolutely not. We either have a country or we don't. We either have a country or we don't. We have borders or we don't have borders. And at this moment, the answer is absolutely not.
The question is clearly about mass deportation, which Trump has previously said he supported. The key difference in Trump's position and that of some of his rivals is forcing undocumented immigrants to leave immediately versus allowing them to stay and apply for some sort of legal status or citizenship. It's an important distinction because once undocumented immigrants are forced to leave the country, actually returning to the U.S. would require a very, very slow process.
Trump has said in the past that he would allow the “good ones” to re-enter the country through an “expedited process” and live in the U.S. legally -- although he has also called for a border security-first approach that would put that at a lower priority.
What is most interesting about Trump's answer, however, is the temporal qualifier "at this time," which he repeats twice. It may have been just a turn of phrase. But taken together with previous statements on the issue, it sounds as if Trump is equivocating in hopes of pivoting to a more moderate position in the general election. After all, Trump has already predicted he will win the Latino vote. What better way to begin to do so than sand off the edges from his harshest statements on immigration?
Earlier this week, the businessman said his immigration plan wasn't set in stone. Certainly, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was nonnegotiable. But other details, such as the wall's height, he said, were up for grabs. And as to the issue of undocumented immigrants?
“I would say this,” Trump said in a Monday interview on Fox News. “We will work out some system that’s fair, but we either have a country or we don’t. We need a border. We need a wall.”
Again, his answer doesn't exactly scream hard-line.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has also suggested that he would be a changed man during the general election. When he’s been asked if he would moderate his tone and message in the general election, he has flatly said that he would.
The rhetoric may give opponents like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) -- who opposes any undocumented immigrants returning to the country -- additional ammunition as they battle to secure the GOP presidential nomination later this summer.
Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist,
BEFORE YOU GO
How to vote
Vote-by-mail ballot request deadline: Varies by state
For the Nov 3 election: States are making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the coronavirus. Each state has its own rules for mail-in absentee voting. Visit your state election office website to find out if you can vote by mail.Get more informationTrack ballot status
In-person early voting dates: Varies by state
Sometimes circumstances make it hard or impossible for you to vote on Election Day. But your state may let you vote during a designated early voting period. You don't need an excuse to vote early. Visit your state election office website to find out whether they offer early voting.My Election Office
General Election: Nov 3, 2020
Polling hours on Election Day: Varies by state/localityMy Polling Place