Donald Trump on the defensive over plans to deport 11m illegal immigrants after campaign hints at retreat

New campaign manager says fate of Trump's original deportation plan is 'to be determined'

David Usborne
New York
Monday 22 August 2016 17:01
A woman waves the Mexican flag while driving past the Albuquerque Convention Center after a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 24, 2016
A woman waves the Mexican flag while driving past the Albuquerque Convention Center after a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Donald Trump thrilled his supporters during the long primary season by vowing to deport the roughly 11 million people living in the United States without proper documentation, sometimes known as illegal aliens and then build a wall along the US-Mexico border to stop them coming back in again. But now, suddenly he is being accused of flip-flopping on the issue.

What has been his position up to now?

Many of the details were missing, but Mr Trump was clear while fighting to win the nomination: he would create a deportation force to round up the 11 million - if that is the right number - and send them back to where they came from. And he would then build a wall at the US-Mexico border to stop all further illegal immigration. Only the “best ones” among those being deported would be allowed back in.

Why is he being accused of flip-flopping now?

On Saturday, Mr Trump met with a group of Hispanic-American leaders in his offices at Trump Tower in Manhattan in an effort to reach out to a key constituency which hitherto has been extremely wary of his candidacy, not least because of his mass-deportation plan and also his remarks when he first declared about illegal Mexican immigrants being "criminals" and "rapists".

While the meeting was behind closed doors, leaked accounts had Mr Trump suggesting that he no longer thought simply sending the 11 million illegal aliens back to their countries would be practical and intimating he would like to find ways to give some of them legal status.

The website of Univision, the Spanish-Language TV channel, quoted Jacob Monty, a Texas immigration lawyer who attended the meeting, for instance. “I really liked that Trump acknowledged that there is a big problem with the 11 million people who are here, and that deporting them is neither possible nor humane,” he said.

Have we had any hints of his softening his line before?

Actually, we have. It wasn’t much noticed at the time but the Republican National Committee's director of Hispanic communications, Helen Aguirre Ferre, suggested to a group of Spanish-speaking reporters attending last month’s Republican convention that Trump had already concluded that a mass deportation programme, presumably with internment camps to house detainees before they were sent on their way, would not be practical.

Mr Trump also met with religious and Hispanic leaders before the convention and reportedly told them he was looking for a more “compassionate” way to deal with the problem.

How did his campaign respond to these reports?

If people were already wondering if Mr Trump was backing off his deportation plan, his newly appointed campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, did nothing to discourage them. Asked on a Sunday morning political show whether the Trump plan would indeed include the mass deportations, she replied bluntly: “To be determined”.

Is Mr Trump himself under pressure to explain what’s going on?

Of course. “I’m not flip flopping, we want to come up with really fair but firm answer,” he told a morning Fox TV show on Monday. “We want to come up with something fair.”

His son, Eric Trump, has also been trying to end the flip-flop chatter. “My father hasn't flip-flopped on anything,” he told Fox on Monday, but then went on to say any plans the campaign comes up with will be “humane and ethical and treats everybody well”.

Might we eventually find out exactly what is on Mr Trump’s mind then?

Yes, the candidate will flesh out his immigration plan during a speech in Colorado on Thursday.

What are the risks for Trump as he prepares to deliver his immigration speech?

He needs to build support in the Hispanic community. The anger among Hispanics at Trump and his proposals for instance is threatening his grip on states like Arizona, which should be his for the taking in November. A Fox poll this month found that Ms Clinton holds a 46-point lead over him among Hispanic voters. It said that while 66 percent of registered Latinos would vote for Mr Clinton only 20 percent who would pick Mr Trump.

But it is hard to gauge what the reaction from his core supporters - mostly non-college educated white men - will be if he ditches his original deportation promise. There will be disappointment. Mr Trump continues to insist he is a straight-talker. But this would indeed make him look more like a shape-shifter, or flip-flopper, on an issue that until now has largely defined his candidacy.

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