It has been one of Donald Trump’s most hard-line promises: he would deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States in less than two years..
“They have to go,” the Republican nominee said in August 2015.
Now, it’s undecided whether Mr. Trump will follow through with this forced deportation of millions of illegal immigrants, his campaign said Sunday.
After two reports Saturday the Trump campaign has started to consider backing away from a deportation “force,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s new campaign manager, told CNN that such a force is “to be determined.” When asked by CBS News how Trump would handle all illegal immigrants already in the United States, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Arizona (R) said the nominee “did listen” to a Hispanic advisory panel of 23 Latino business and faith leaders.
In the buildup to Trump’s immigration plan he is expected to unveil Thursday in Colorado, Ms. Conway and Mr. Sessions’s comments add to speculation over whether Trump will abandon his forced deportation plan, a bedrock of his campaign and one that is massive in scale and in controversy.
“Trump's positions on the issues have changed before. He is not a model of consistency, to put it mildly,” writes the Washington Posts’s Aaron Blake Sunday. “But this issue was so central to his previous appeals that a change in course would truly be striking.”
Trump's campaign is playing down the reports and says nothing has really changed. But it clearly has. Even in equivocating and saying it's "to be determined," the campaign is striking a far different tone than Trump has before. Conway was twice given the chance to reiterate that Trump will deport all illegal immigrants, and she didn't.
On “State of the Union” Sunday morning, CNN’s Dana Bash twice asked Conway if Trump would abandon his plan for a deportation force he has repeatedly promoted. Conway declined to answer.
"What he supports is to make sure that we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for well-paying jobs, and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country," she said. "We need a fair and humane way of dealing with what is estimated to be about 11 million illegal immigrants in this country."
Conway was responding to reports by Buzzfeed and Univision Saturday that Trump and his campaign have started to consider providing undocumented immigrants a path to “legalization.” President Obama’s executive amnesty program was held up by a deadlocked Supreme Court in June.
Buzzfeed reported Saturday that three members of Trump’s Hispanic advisory panel he met with in New York Saturday said the nominee entertained the idea.
“Trump did not explicitly use the word “legalization” at the meeting, but sources in the room said they feel it is the direction the campaign is going,” writes Buzzfeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo.
The Trump campaign has denied the report.
Univision's Eduardo Suárez, meanwhile, reported Trump’s immigration plan he is set to present Thursday will include “finding a way to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.”
Sen. Sessions said Sunday Trump did not make any “firm commitment” at the meeting the day before.
“But he did listen and he’s talking about it,” said Sessions, adding the nominee is “wrestling” with how to deal with those who are already in the US illegally.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has repeatedly indicated a forced deportation program would be nearly 28 times larger than it is now (there are 400,000 deportations a year), and send about 10 times more immigrants across the Mexican border than “Operation Wetback,” a divisive 1954 program under former President Eisenhower. If conducted within two years, it would surpass the forced resettlements in eastern Europe and Russia during World War II and its aftermath.
“I can’t even begin to picture how we would deport 11 million people in a few years where we don’t have a police state, where the police can’t break down your door at will and take you away without a warrant,” Michael Chertoff, who led a significant increase in immigration enforcement as the secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, told The New York Times in May.
Some of the measures experts speculated the plan would have to include would be large-scale raids of factories, farms, restaurants, and construction sites, the FBI and other agencies diverting other resources to deportation, and detention camps similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Such a plan could also overload already backlogged immigration courts.
And questions about Trump’s immigration plan come as the nominee trails far behind his opponent, Hillary Clinton, among Latinos. According to a Fox News poll published Aug. 11, Clinton leads Trump by 20 points among Latino voters.