After spending a few days reflecting on his immigration stances and consulting with Hispanic supporters, Donald Trump on Monday detailed how he would deal with the millions of immigrants illegally living in the United States: Enforce laws that are already on the books and continue to do what President Obama is doing, although “perhaps with a lot more energy.”
This strategy marks a sudden change for the Republican nominee, who has presented himself as a politically incorrect outsider who is not afraid to take extreme measures to combat illegal immigration, such as deporting 11 million people or constructing a massive wall along the southern border. For more than a year, Trump insisted that all illegal immigrants “have got to go” and that he would create a “deportation force” to carry out the task.
Trump struck a starkly different tone during an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that aired on Monday night. Trump said he would separate the country’s undocumented immigrants into two groups: The “bad ones” who would be kicked out of the country as soon as he takes office and “everybody else” who would go through the same process that the Obama Administration is currently using.
“The first thing we’re going to do if and when I win is we’re going to get rid of all of the bad ones,” Trump said. “We’ve got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country. We’re going to get them out, and the police know who they are. They’re known by law enforcement who they are. We don’t do anything. They go around killing people and hurting people and they’re going to be out of this country so fast your head will spin. We have existing laws that allow you to do that.”
The United States has long deported illegal immigrants who are violent criminals, and Obama’s administration has focused on targeting “felons, not families.”
As the United States recently saw a surge of tens of thousands of women and children fleeing violence and corruption in Central America, the administration has deported all new arrivals who did not qualify for political asylum in hopes of deterring others from making the dangerous journey — a stance that has angered immigrant rights groups. Clinton has said that she would only deport violent criminals and terrorists.
Trump has long called for quicker removal of illegal immigrants who become violent. On Monday night, Trump explained how he would address nonviolent illegal immigrants.
“As far as everybody else, we’re going to go through the process,” Trump said. “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m going to do the same thing.”
Later in the interview, Trump again explained how this group of people would be treated.
“As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now, perhaps with a lot more energy, and we’re going to do it only through the system of laws,” Trump said.
At one point, O’Reilly asked Trump about expanding the court system to adjudicate all of these cases and setting up detention centers to house people as they wait for their immigration cases to be heard. Trump quickly batted down the suggestion that he would house people in detention centers.
“You don’t have to put them in a detention center,” Trump said. “Bill, you’re the first one to mention ‘detention center.’ You don’t have to put them in a detention center … I’m not going to put them in a detention center. No.”
O’Reilly said that he suggested detention centers because Trump had previously likened his plans to mass deportations carried out during the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“I said that it’s something that has been done in a very strong manner,” Trump said, explaining why he had originally referenced the historic deportations. “I don’t agree with that. I’m not talking about detention centers. I have very, very good relationships with a lot of people, a lot of Hispanic people. We’re talking about it.”
by Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.