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Donald Trump made a statesman-like visit to the president of Mexico, then followed that up by a delivering a hard-charging speech on immigration in Phoenix. It left many people wondering if Trump was softening or hardening his immigration policies.
That was the topic for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who took questions about his running mate on Meet the Press.
Host Chuck Todd pointed out that Trump has been inconsistent on what to do with approximately 11 million people living in the United States illegally, specifically those who haven’t committed violent crime. Trump has said violent criminals should be deported, a position that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also holds.
Todd noted that Trump’s position on what to do with nonviolent immigrants isn’t clear.
"I think Donald Trump’s been completely consistent," Pence countered. "And I think he did answer the question."
Todd pressed Pence with more questioning, noting that Latino leaders were concerned about Trump’s policies and what they actually were. But Pence didn’t directly answer.
We looked in depth at Trump’s statements about the undocumented and found that Trump’s answers have not been consistent. At times Trump has been vague, and at other times he’s contradicted himself. His current position seems to be one of wait and see.
No official position
Before he jumped into the presidential race, Trump seemed to advocate for a pathway to citizenship, not deportation, and repeatedly implied that immigration reform was "what’s right." But he warned that it wouldn’t help the Republican Party.
"Every one of those (11 million) votes goes to the Democrats. Now with that, you have to do what’s right, you have to do what’s right. It’s not about the votes necessarily," he said in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference of 2014. "So with immigration, you better be smart and you better be tough."
As a presidential candidate, Trump has advocated the "return of all criminal aliens," detention of those crossing the border and enhanced penalties for visa overstays. (Snapshots show his position page hasn’t changed since September 2015, when his campaign website launched.)
But the position page makes no mention of the undocumented population at large and, in comments throughout this election, he’s floated several different proposals. Let’s run through them.
Proposal No. 1: ‘Have to give them a path’
A few days after he announced his candidacy, Trump suggested he was open to a pathway to citizenship.
"You have to give them a path, and you have to make it possible for them to succeed. But the bad ones, you have to get them out and get them out fast," Trump said in a July 3, 2015, press conference.
Proposal No. 2: Mass deportations and expedited legal return
During most of the GOP primary, Trump consistently advocated for deporting all undocumented immigrants, but allowing some to return through an expedited legal process.
He didn’t give details on how he would pay for and implement the deportations, but remained committed to his position and criticized primary opponents for being weak on the issue and promising "amnesty."
Here are some examples of comments Trump made during that period:
• Sept. 27, 2015, CBS: "If they’ve done well, they’re going out and they’re coming back in legally. ...We’re rounding 'em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they’re going to be happy because they want to be legalized."
• Nov. 11, 2015, MSNBC: "You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely. ... Now they can come back but they have to come back legally."
• Feb. 25, 2016, CNN/Telemundo GOP primary debate: "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. They will go out. They will come back — some will come back, the best, through a process."
Proposal No. 3: No mass deportations and ‘we work with them’
After winning the GOP primary, Trump seemed to walk back his previous calls for removing all of the 11 million undocumented immigrants.
He told Bloomberg in a June 2016 interview that his immigration policies would have "heart." Pressed to clarify his earlier deportation position, he said, "No, I wouldn’t call it mass deportations. … We are going to get rid of a lot of bad dudes who are here, that I can tell you."
"I never liked the media term ‘mass deportation’ — but we must enforce the laws of the land!" he tweeted the same day.
Trump reiterated this position in a Aug. 23 Fox News town hall. Asked whether he would accommodate law-abiding undocumented immigrants with families, he said, "There certainly can be a softening, because we’re not looking to hurt people, we want people — we have some great people in this country. We have some great people in this country. So, but we’re going to follow the laws of this country."
In a follow-up town hall that aired a night later, Trump asked his supporters to indicate via applause what he should do with the noncriminal immigrants: "No. 1, we’ll say throw them out. No. 2, we work with them."
"They’ll pay back taxes. They have to pay taxes. There’s no amnesty," Trump said following the voice vote. "But we work with them. ... Everywhere I go, I get the same reaction. They want toughness. They want firmness. They want to obey the law. But -- but they feel that throwing them out as a whole family when they've been here for a long time -- it's a tough thing."
Proposal No. 4: Possible pathway to legal status and possible mass deportations
The same day as his second Fox News town hall, Trump insisted he hadn’t changed his position. He talked about granting legal status provided the undocumented immigrants leave the United States first, but also suggested there’s a "very good chance" he’ll deport them.
"You can’t take 11 (million) at one time and just say, ‘boom, you’re gone.’ We have to find where these people are. Most people don’t even know where they are," he said to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Aug. 26. "I don’t think it’s a softening. I’ve had people saying it’s a hardening, actually. ... We’re going to deport many people, many, many people."
Given that the vast majority of the undocumented immigrants are not criminals, Cooper asked, would they be able to gain legal status?
"Unless people leave the country — well, when they come back in, if they come back in then they can start paying taxes," Trump responded. "But there is no path to legalization unless they leave the country and come back."
When pressed on whether he would deport undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed a crime, Trump said, "We’re going to see what happens. But there's a very good chance the answer could be yes, but there's no legalization. There's no amnesty. If somebody wants to go the legalization route, what they'll do is they'll go leave the country, hopefully come back in and then we can talk."
Proposal No. 5: Deportations prioritizing criminals, visa overstays and ‘public charges’
In his Aug. 31 Phoenix, Ariz., speech outlining his immigration policy, Trump reiterated that legal status would only be granted to undocumented immigrants who "return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else."
As for deportations, Trump suggested the threat would always loom, but the focus wouldn’t be on law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
"Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation," he said. "Our enforcement priorities will include removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges. That is those relying on public welfare or straining the safety net along with millions of recent illegal arrivals and overstays who've come here under this current corrupt administration."
Proposal No. 6: ‘Assess the situation’
A day after his speech, Trump suggested his mind wasn’t quite made up, and that he’d have to see which undocumented immigrants remained after all his policies had been implemented.
"We're going to sit back, we're going to assess the situation," Trump said on Fox News. "We're going to make a decision at that time. I want to see, before we do anything further, I want to see how it shapes up when we have strong, you know, I use the word impenetrable borders."
Pence said, "Donald Trump’s been completely consistent" about his plan for nonviolent undocumented immigrants.
Trump has been consistently vague about his policies for undocumented immigrants who live in the United States and largely obey the law.
He’s advocated for mass deportations and then rejected mass deportations before saying there’s a "very good chance" they would happen. He’s said "you have to give them a path" but rejected "amnesty" and then said legal status could be granted to those who leave the country first and apply for reentry.
We rate Pence’s claim False.
NBC, Meet the Press, Sept. 4, 2016
Donald J. Trump, "Immigration Reform," accessed Sept. 4, 2016
CQ, Nexis and Google searches
CNN, "Outrage grows as Trump keeps talking about Mexicans," July 3, 2015
CNN, "Trump's immigration plan: Deport the undocumented, 'legal status' for some," July 30, 2015
CBS, "Trump would take 2 years to deport millions of undocumented immigrants," Sept. 11, 2015
CBS, "Trump gets down to business on 60 Minutes" Set. 27, 2016
Real Clear Politics, " Back to Videos Trump: You're Going To Have A "Deportation Force," They'll Be Humane," Nov. 11, 2015
Business Insider, "We pressed Donald Trump about the practicality of his plan to deport 11 million people," Nov. 21, 2015
Washington Post, "The CNN-Telemundo Republican debate transcript, annotated," Feb. 25, 2016
Today Show, "Trump on TODAY town hall: Abortion exceptions, immigration, raising taxes, more," April 21, 2016
Bloomberg, "Trump Says Muslim Ban Plan to Focus on ‘Terrorist’ Countries," June 26, 2016
Fox News, Hannity: Donald Trump Town Hall, Aug. 23, 2016
Fox News, Hannity: Donald Trump Town Hall, Aug. 24, 2016
CNN, "New Day," Aug. 26, 2016
Donald Trump’s immigration speech, Aug. 31, 2016
Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, Sept. 1, 2016
PolitiFact, "Did Donald Trump promise mass deportation of 'Latino families'?" July 28, 2016
PolitiFact, "As Donald Trump prepares immigration speech, mass deportation at issue," Aug. 30, 2016
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