WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s new line on immigration — “fair, but firm” — is leaving both Republicans and Democrats with the same question: Is the famously hard-line GOP nominee softening his approach?
His campaign insists his position is “exactly the same” in principle. But even Trump acknowledged Tuesday there “could certainly be a softening, because we’re not looking to hurt people.”
And in the course of just a few days, Trump has gone from calling for mass deportations for millions — a position to the right of even many Republicans — to arguing deportations should focus on those who commit crimes, veering into the same territory as President Barack Obama and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
So what gives?
If this week’s string of vague and contradictory statements by Trump and his team is revealing anything, it’s that his immigration policy is still evolving. Just days ago Trump reshuffled his campaign staff as part of an effort to recalibrate his message for the general election, in which his tough stance on immigration may be more of a liability than it was in the Republican primary.
This week, Trump’s campaign postponed a major immigration speech scheduled for this week, but announced he’d hold two events highlighting border security needs and crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
A look at what Trump has proposed, compared to Clinton’s policies and Obama’s record in office:
TRUMP: From the start, the brash billionaire’s campaign has been rooted in the promise of a dramatically different approach to immigration. He presented a detailed deportation plan for 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, complete with estimated timeframes and references to a “deportation force.” Trump argued all would have to return to their country of origin but that the “good people” could come back through legal processes.
His tune seems to have changed. On Monday, Trump said his first focus would be to get rid of “the bad ones.” Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Trump wanted to deport immigrants with criminal records, not all 11 million. What about that deportation force? “He has not said that for a while,” Conway said.
CLINTON: The Democratic nominee has said overhauling immigration laws will be a top priority, but in the meantime, she says current laws should be enforced “humanely.” Her campaign says deportations would focus on immigrants “who pose a violent threat to public safety.” Clinton wants to shut down privately run detention centers.
OBAMA: Immigration advocates have railed against Obama for deporting huge numbers — more than 2.5 million in all — and dubbed him the “deporter in chief.” In 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement set a record of removing 409,000 immigrants. Since then, though, the numbers have declined to just 235,413 in the 2016 budget year.
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
TRUMP: He’s offered conflicting takes on how he’d deal with immigrants brought here illegally as children, and their parents. He praised the Supreme Court’s move in June that halted Obama’s second wave of executive actions on that issue, actions Trump decried as “executive amnesty.” His campaign says he’d reverse Obama’s remaining actions.
On the other hand, Trump has said he wouldn’t split up families, though he hasn’t explained how he’d reconcile those policies. He also supports eliminating birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to parents who came here illegally.
CLINTON: She wants to preserve Obama’s executive actions — both those affecting children and those affecting their parents. Clinton also wants to expand those actions to immigrants who have contributed to their communities or faced “extreme labor violations.”
OBAMA: Obama’s position, like Trump’s recent comments, is rooted in the notion that limited law enforcement resources should be focused on law-breaking immigrants, not kids and families.
The president’s first set of executive actions has shielded more than 800,000 young immigrants from deportation since 2012. After Republicans won the Senate in 2014 and the prospect of an immigration overhaul grew dimmer, Obama acted again to protect up to 4 million parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents and let them work legally. The courts have put the more recent actions on hold.
TRUMP: He says the border isn’t adequately protected. Trump has called for tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who handle deportations.
And then, of course, there’s the wall. Trump is standing firm behind his plans to build a “real wall” on the Mexican border and to force Mexico to fund it. He says until Mexico pays up, the U.S. will increase visa and border crossing fees, “impound all remittance payments” from immigrants here illegally, and possibly increase tariffs or cut foreign aid.
CLINTON: She’s called for securing U.S. borders, but has also said the U.S. is already doing “a really good job.” In March, Clinton said increased border security staffing, new fencing and lower immigration rates have lessened the problem.
She opposes Trump’s wall.
OBAMA: In the 2008 budget year, before Obama took office, the U.S. had about 17,000 Border Patrol agents, reflecting an increase under President George W. Bush from the 9,212 the U.S. had in 2000. Obama increased it to 20,199 in 2009, and the numbers have hovered around there ever since. Border apprehensions dropped significantly during that time.
Meanwhile, billions of taxpayer dollars have gone toward border fencing and technology to secure the border, another project that started under Bush.
Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.