Donald Trump held a meeting with evangelical leaders in June in a high-profile attempt to soften his image. Some attendees were favorably disposed to the candidate, while others were more skeptical. And although not everyone left the room offering an endorsement, many ― including to a Latino pastor who had urged the candidate to tone down his rhetoric on immigration ― said they were heartened by Trump’s willingness to listen.
A month later, Trump showed how little listening he had actually done. When he formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president, Trump hinted at large-scale deportation policies while offering a warning that undocumented immigrants are killers who steal jobs from Americans. Just last week, his campaign released an ad that painted a portrait of what would happen if Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton became president: “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay, collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line.”
Since launching his campaign, Trump has publicly struck a harsh line when it comes to immigration reform. And yet, at various junctures, there has been rampant speculation that he intends to soften his pitch. Part of that may be by design ― the logical maneuvering of a politician trying to appeal to a broader audience. But part of it may be a byproduct of Trump’s managerial style. In private, he can be vague to the point of seeming receptive. Sometimes, as was the case with the gathering of evangelical leaders, people come out of meetings convinced, or at least hopeful, that he has listened to them.
This seems to have been the case on Saturday, after the topic of undocumented immigration once again came up during a meeting between Trump and Hispanic leaders. Some attendees told BuzzFeed and Univision that Trump had indicated he was open to legalization for certain undocumented immigrants, although he reportedly did not use the word “legalization.”
Trump, members of his campaign and a Republican National Committee official insisted that those reports are inaccurate. They also left themselves wiggle room, as they often do, by remaining vague on what, exactly, Trump plans to do about undocumented immigrants, and saying his position on mass deportation was still to be determined.
“We have to be very firm. We have to be very, very strong when people come in illegally,” Trump said of his immigration plans during a “Fox & Friends” interview on Monday. “We have a lot of people that want to come in through the legal process. It’s not fair for them. And we’re working with a lot of people in the Hispanic community to try and come up with an answer.”
“I’m not flip-flopping,” he said. “We want to come up with a very fair, but firm offer.”
So, is a change in Trump’s deportation policies coming? Maybe. He has certainly been inconsistent in the past, and the campaign may be spinning in anticipation for another flip-flop.
The campaign says more details are forthcoming. Initially, it promised more information would be revealed during a speech on Thursday. But on Monday afternoon, the Trump campaign told supporters in an email that “the speech [Trump] was planning on giving is still being modified” and that the candidate won’t hold a public event as originally planned, according to the Denver Post.
Here are some of the things candidate Trump has said about his plans for undocumented immigrants.
Trump announced his White House bid by saying border security was nonexistent and promising to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He also said President Barack Obama’s deportation relief policies should be ended.
Mexico is not sending its “best” people across the border, he said.
“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Trump mocked then-opponent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for once saying undocumented parents move to the U.S. as an “act of love.”
The campaign said in a policy paper that there should be more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, harsher penalties for people who overstay their visas and an end to birthright citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to undocumented parents. It does not, notably, include an explicit promise to deport every undocumented immigrant. But it does include a promise to enforce immigration law.
“America will only be great as long as America remains a nation of laws that lives according to the Constitution. No one is above the law,” the paper read.
Trump was clearer about his deportation policy in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, saying he thought undocumented immigrants, including children, must leave the country.
“We’re going to keep the families together, we have to keep the families together, but they have to go,” he said in the interview, which aired on “Meet the Press.”
CBS’s Scott Pelley asked Trump on “60 Minutes” whether the candidate was “serious about deporting 12 million illegal immigrants.”
“Well, nobody knows the number. But the answer is ― you just said it, they’re illegal immigrants,” Trump said. “They’re here illegally.”
“We’re rounding ‘em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way,” he added later. “And they’re going to be happy because they want to be legalized. And, by the way, I know it doesn’t sound nice. But not everything is nice.”
He also indicated that he admired the “Operation Wetback” mass deportation policy of President Dwight Eisenhower, although he did not refer to the program by name.
Trump alluded to “Operation Wetback” again during a GOP primary debate.
“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower. Good president. ... Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country,” Trump said.
Trump said he would “humanely” send undocumented immigrants “back where they came” from.
“You are going to have a deportation force, and you are going to do it humanely,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
(Back in present day, his campaign manager said this weekend that it was “to be determined” whether Trump would have a “deportation force.”)
Trump again promised to deport children during an interview with Barbara Walters.
“When you send these people out,” Walters asked him on ABC’s “20/20,” referring to undocumented immigrants, “what do you do with the women and children?”
“They’re going to go with them,” Trump replied.
“You’re going to send the whole family?” Walters asked.
“Sure,” Trump said. “It’s got to be a family unit. It’s going to be done humanely.”
Trump applauded and took credit for planned ICE raids on undocumented immigrants.
Trump said during a GOP primary debate that “we either have a country, or we don’t have a country.”
“We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally,” Trump said. “They will go out. They will come back ― some will come back, the best, through a process.”
In what was maybe ― although again, we’re skeptical ― a signal of changes to come, Trump said in March that “at this moment” he was not considering allowing undocumented immigrants to stay.
“Would you consider allowing the people you’ve said you would bring back into the country, would you allow them to stay in the country, without having them leave the country first?” a reporter asked Trump.
“At this moment, absolutely not,” the candidate said. “We either have a country or we don’t. We either have a country or we don’t. We have borders or we don’t have borders. And at this moment, the answer is absolutely not.”
A woman asked Trump at a town hall whether he would deport undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for 25 years.
“They’re going to go, and we’re going to create a path where we can get them into this country legally, OK?” he said at the event, hosted by NBC’s “Today Show.” “But it has to be done legally. ... They’re going to go, and then come back and come back legally.”
Trump seemed to change his tune a bit when he accused Obama of mass deportation and said his own policies would have “heart.”
“I think people are going to find that I have not only the best policies, but I will have the biggest heart of anybody,” Trump said, according to Bloomberg News.
“No, I would not call it mass deportations,” he said.
Later that day, Trump indicated that he may object to the term “mass deportations” more than he objects to the concept.
During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump briefly mentioned being “compassionate to everyone,” but mostly talked about immigration in the context of enforcement.
“Tonight, I want every American whose demands for immigration security have been denied ― and every politician who has denied them ― to listen very closely to the words I am about to say,” he said. “On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone. But my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens.”
This article has been updated to reflect that the Trump campaign has announced the candidate won’t give an immigration speech on Thursday.