PHOENIX, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump dispelled any suggestions he is “softening” his stance on illegal immigration with a fiery speech Wednesday, repeating many of his most controversial positions, while stopping short of pledging an immediate, all-out effort to deport the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Trump’s speech before a raucous crowd of supporters in a border state, Arizona, came after weeks of hints from the candidate and top advisers he was reconsidering some of the fundamental tenants of his immigration policy after months of railing against it in the Republican primary. After he was finished with an hour-long speech, it was clear there were very few departures from his longstanding positions.
While he said his administration would “prioritize” enforcement of immigration laws and would not immediately target otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants, he said all undocumented individuals would be subject to deportation under his presidency.
Trump returned to his previous framing, casting border security as a defining issue for any country. Trump said the United States’ weak borders and an immigration policy that can be easily overrun threatens its very existence as a nation.
“We have to have a country, folks,” he said.
In what was billed by the campaign as a defining speech on the topic, Trump stuck to his platform since the campaign began more than a year ago:
— The federal government under his presidency would not create any pathway to legal status or citizenship for undocumented immigrants — a policy immigration hard-liners have dubbed “amnesty.”
“For those here illegally today who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply legally like everybody else,” he said.
— He would prioritize the immediate removal of those with criminal records and “on Day One” would authorize federal and local law enforcement to begin round-ups because “they know every one of these criminals.”
To do so, he would create a “deportation task force” that would help identify such individuals.
— He would build a “great wall” along the Mexican border and force the Mexican government to pay for its construction.
The payment question came under some scrutiny earlier Wednesday after a visit to Mexico, where Trump met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. During a press conference after their private meeting, Trump said the question of who would pay for the wall was not broached. After Trump left, Pena Nieto took to Twitter, saying he made it clear to Trump during their meeting the Mexican government would not pay for the wall.
— Trump would suspend visas for any Muslim nations where “adequate screening cannot occur,” singling out Syria and Libya, over concerns terrorists will attempt to pose as refugees to gain access to the United States. He also pledged new “ideological screenings” for Muslim refugees to ensure “those we admit to our country share our values and love our people.”
Notably, he did not call for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration, as he previously suggested in the campaign.
— Trump called for cutting off federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” where police have been ordered not to enforce immigration laws or report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities for deportation.
Trump criticized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama for immigration policies he says prize the welfare of undocumented immigrants over American citizens and have put national security at risk.
“We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration. There will be no amnesty. Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country,” Trump said. “Can’t do it.”
By Eric DuVall