One of President-elect Donald Trump’s central campaign promises was to crack down on unauthorized immigration and ramp up what he has said is an ineffective deportation strategy under President Barack Obama.
But Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus insisted on Wednesday that Trump only plans to deport criminals.
“He’s not calling for mass deportation,” Priebus said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “He said, ‘No, only people who have committed crimes.’ And then only until all of that is taken care of will we look at what we are going to do next.”
Priebus made the comment moments after saying part of Trump’s “message was following through on the promises you make to the American people.” And while he’s right that Trump has shifted somewhat on deportation policies ― at least in rhetoric ― the idea that he plans to only deport criminals would be an extreme diversion from his promises, and not one that he’s clearly indicated he will make.
Trump began earlier this year to shift away from his previous vow to have a “deportation force” that would round up every undocumented immigrant. But he did continue to say that all undocumented immigrants needed to and would leave.
He also knocked Obama for setting priorities for deportation and for allegedly perpetuating “amnesty.” Obama deported noncriminals ― if Trump didn’t, he’d be, arguably, softer on immigration than the predecessor he has accused of standing by while unauthorized immigrants come to the country and commit crimes that lead to the death of Americans.
It’s unlikely that Trump would truly deport only criminals. He has said he would widen the scope of who would be considered a priority for deportation and that anyone who came into contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be at risk.
Priebus referenced Trump’s vague commitment to address other undocumented immigrants once the entire situation has been resolved, which rang hollow as well. Trump has never said what he’d consider as the end to unauthorized immigration, and has given plenty of indications that it would entail enough deportations to take years of work. The idea that he might someday consider doing something for certain undocumented immigrants ― with absolutely no detail ― is far from the reform proposals other Republicans and Democrats have put forward.
Republicans may be trying to shift away from the idea that their chosen candidate remains extreme on immigration, and it could be an emphasis that he will shift away from it, too.
The country will find out next year.