Donald Trump met Tuesday with the president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to insist he is not anti-Latino, while standing by his push for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the mass deportation of the mostly Latino undocumented population.
Yet while the businessman and GOP presidential candidate did not back away from his controversial immigration stances, his tone was considerably softer, according to people who attended the meeting, which took place in New York.
"What I found was the private Donald is very different from the public Donald," Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told HuffPost. "He was very gracious, he was very hospitable. Amazingly, he listened a lot more than he talked. He asked a lot of questions."
Palomarez said the meeting was set up at the Trump campaign's request. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump's past assertion that some of the immigrants coming into the U.S. from Mexico were rapists and criminals led the chamber to boycott Trump hotels, announcing in July they would not be considered as potential venues for upcoming conventions.
According to Palomarez, Trump claimed Tuesday that he hadn't disparaged Mexican immigrants, but that he had argued that it was the Mexican government that was responsible for sending rapists and other criminals to the U.S.. Trump also said his remarks were about everyone passing through Mexico to enter the U.S. illegally, not just Mexicans, but that the media had mischaracterized his remarks.
Trump, ever the businessman, asked at the meeting whether the chamber would consider one holding its 2016 convention at one of his venues in Miami, according to chamber spokesman Ammar Campa-Najjar. The answer was still no.
Campa-Najjar said Trump reiterated that he wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and said deporting all undocumented immigrants and allowing some to return would be cheaper than maintaining the current system. Palomarez responded that mass deportation would hurt American businesses, and that Trump needed to take a more holistic approach to immigration policy.
Overall, the meeting did not change Palomarez's opinion on Trump -- the chamber put out a statement afterward saying it "did not endorse, support, or give credence to Mr. Trump's public statements." But the chamber, a non-partisan organization that has hosted Q&A sessions with candidates from both parties, now plans to host a similar event with Trump in the future.
Palomarez told HuffPost that Trump's desire to talk to them and participate in an event gave him "glimmer of hope that he wants to articulate perhaps a bit more clearly what his views are."
"Like him or not, agree with him or not is not necessarily the point here," he said. "The fact of the matter is the man's polling extremely well and he is a legitimate candidate. As such, we are honor-bound to at least give him an audience."