Donald Trump redrew his hardline stance against illegal immigration in the US in a major policy speech before an elated audience in Arizona – and amid uncertainties about his policies, insisted there will be “no amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
The speech comes mere hours after he appeared with Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, where he was much more restrained. He still insisted that the US had a right to build a wall along the border, but claimed the matter of payment was not addressed – which Mr Peña Nieto later disputed.
Mr Trump returned to his tough-guy persona on Wednesday night at the Phoenix rally, beginning his policy outline with his first priority: to build a “beautiful”, “impenetrable” wall along the southern border.
“Mexico will pay for the wall. Believe me. One hundred per cent,” he said. “They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall.”
In a lengthy preamble, Mr Trump prepared the crowd for “the truth” about “one of the greatest challenges facing our country today” and criticised “weak and foolish” “open border policy” of the Obama administration.
“The truth is, our immigration system is worse than anybody ever realised,” he said.
Mr Trump focused on alleged victims of undocumented immigrants who had criminal records, blaming Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their deaths.
“Countless Americans who have died in recent years would be alive today if not for the open border policies of this administration and the administration that causes this horrible horrible thought process,” Mr Trump said. “It is called Hillary Clinton.”
He also outlined a standard he wished to hold incoming immigrants, showing favour for those who could “successfully assimilate”.
“It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us,” he said.
Mr Trump elaborated on his deportation force that would focus on zeroing in on undocumented immigrants with criminal records. He proposed expanding the US Border Patrol and creating more stations. But Mr Trump also expressed his desire to give local law enforcement the ability to round up immigrants with criminal backgrounds under his “zero tolerance” policy.
At one point in the evening, he quipped that perhaps Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers could deport Ms Clinton.
“Within ICE, I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice, just like Hillary Clinton has evade justice, OK? Maybe they’ll be able to deport her,” he said.
Among his other proposals were an “ideological certification to make sure that those we’re admitting to our country share our values and love our people”. He repeated his desire for “extreme vetting” of prospective immigrants.
Mr Trump made the June 2015 promise to build a wall along the US border with Mexico – a stance that led to his domination of the Republican primaries. But in the past week, his message has become muddled and somewhat contradictory.
In a town hall meeting with Fox’s Sean Hannity, Mr Trump stepped away from his year-long promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants from the US, suggesting that he would allow the “good” immigrants stay, so long as they paid back-taxes. He also suggested “there could certainly be a softening” of his policy positions on Mexican immigration.
Still, despite the week of political theatrics, Mr Trump repositioned himself as an outsider – a familiar claim by the former reality television star.
“Anyone who tells you that the core issue is the needs of those living here illegally,” he said, “has simply spent too much time in Washington.”