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Haley made the comments shown in the ad in July 2015, a month after Donald Trump called people coming from Mexico "rapists" who bring drugs and crime into the U.S.
Haley hasn’t pushed for programs that would give people in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship or legal status.
She said she would prioritize deporting people who, under Biden, illegally crossed the border over people who have lived in the U.S. for years and are "actually trying to be productive and have a job."
Here’s how PolitiFact chooses which statements to fact-check.
EXETER, N.H. — Suspenseful music. Darkened video of hordes of people running. An ad from pro-Donald Trump political action committee MAGA Inc. depicts a U.S. under attack.
"Drug traffickers, rapists, poisoning our country," the narrator says.
The 30-second ad airing across New Hampshire calls former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley "too weak, too liberal to fix the border."
Trump has intensified his rhetorical attacks on Haley as the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary approached.
The ad makes several claims about Haley’s immigration record.
"Nikki Haley refused to call illegals criminals," the narrator says, followed by a clip of Haley speaking in 2015.
"We don't need to talk about them as criminals, they're not," Haley says in the clip.
The narrator adds, "Haley even opposed Trump’s wall, and Haley repeatedly pushed amnesty for illegals."
We’ve previously rated the claim that Haley opposed Trump’s wall False. But when voter Robert McCowen told us during a Haley rally here in Exeter, New Hampshire, that he watched the ad and wanted to know the full context behind Haley’s comments, we decided to explore the rest.
"I think they twisted that," said McCowen, who said he is voting for Haley.
Examining Haley’s 2015 comments in full, we found MAGA Inc. took Haley’s 2015 comments out of context and incorrectly characterized Haley’s record on amnesty for immigrants.
One month after Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign with an anti-immigrant tone,, Haley participated with several Republican governors in a panel by the Aspen Institute, a public policy think tank.
Trump captured widespread headlines for saying Mexican immigrants were "bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
In that context, the Aspen Institute moderator acknowledged that Haley comes from a family of Indian immigrants. "How does that inform your thinking on the immigration debate, and what do you feel about the tone of the immigration debate as it’s recently turned?" the moderator asked.
Haley started her answer by saying the U.S. is "a country of laws," a sentiment she has repeated on the 2024 campaign trail. "We have to always be a country of laws," she said. "So, it’s incredibly frustrating for people to see the illegal immigrants coming across. It really is astonishing that, after all these years, D.C. can't figure out how to build a wall."
She said despite the U.S. being "a country of immigrants," people, such as her parents, "resent when people come here illegally."
"But, let's keep in mind, these people that are wanting to come here, they want to come for a better life, too. They have kids, too. They have a heart, too. So, we don't need to be disrespectful," Haley said. "We don't need to talk about them as criminals; they're not. They're families that want a better life and they're desperate to get here. What we need to do is make sure that we have a set of laws that we follow and that we go through with that.
"So, I think that some things have been said that have been unfortunate and wrong. But I think we also need to remember, especially, for all of us, I say, for Republicans … tone and communication matter. And people matter. And we don’t need to talk about this in a cold-hearted way."
Although crossing the U.S. border illegally is a crime, being in the U.S. without authorization is a civil offense.
Haley’s campaign responded to the MAGA Inc. ad in a Jan. 8 press release: "The 2015 comments reflect Haley’s belief that not every illegal immigrant is a hardened criminal, but they still have to follow the law."
When we asked MAGA Inc. for evidence behind the ad's claim that Haley "repeatedly pushed amnesty for illegals," the group pointed us to Haley’s comments during the Dec. 6 Republican primary debate in Alabama.
Moderator Elizabeth Vargas addressed Haley: "You have pledged to catch and deport all migrants who are here in this country illegally. But then you said in Londonderry, New Hampshire, last month that you will not deport those who are working and paying taxes rather than feeding off the system. Which is it?"
Haley responded that all of the people who have illegally entered the U.S. under Biden must be deported. She said everyone else, an estimated 11 million people, has to be evaluated by circumstance: "How long have they been here? … Have they paid taxes? Have they been working?" she said.
Haley was vague about what would happen to the people with jobs. At a Nov. 2, 2023, campaign event in Londonderry, New Hampshire, she said, "If they’re actually trying to be productive and have a job, and have a record that we can look at, then we can look at what happens."
As we have fact-checked claims about amnesty, we have learned this term has no single definition. "Amnesty" can be defined narrowly to mean giving people in the U.S. illegally citizenship or broadly to mean any policy favorable to people in the U.S. illegally.
Although she has not put forth a clear deportation plan, Haley's comments show she is open to establishing a system for shrinking the population of people illegally in the U.S. However, it's not accurate to say she has repeatedly pushed for amnesty, as the ad claims.
When she speaks about this issue, she hasn’t mentioned specific policies. Instead, she has said that if she becomes president, she will prioritize deporting immigrants who recently came to the U.S. over people who have lived in the country for a long time. This is something most presidents do because of limited deportation resources.
During the Londonderry, New Hampshire, event, she vaguely referred to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that prevents deportation for people who came to the U.S. illegally as children, but she said she wasn’t interested in discussing it until Congress tackles more substantial immigration reform.
"You want to talk about DACA? You do immigration reform, and then we’ll talk about DACA," Haley said. "It’s not the other way around. You have to have the carrot and the stick."
A MAGA Inc. ad said, "Nikki Haley refused to call illegals criminals" and "repeatedly pushed amnesty for illegals."
The ad takes Haley’s 2015 comments out of context. Haley was responding to a question posed a month after Trump announced his presidential campaign and said immigrants from Mexico are "rapists" "bringing drugs," "bringing crime." Haley was asked how being from an immigrant family informed her thoughts on immigration. She responded that people who want to come to the U.S. should follow laws but that "we don’t need to talk about them as criminals."
Haley also hasn’t pushed for programs that would give people in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship or legal status. Instead, she has said she would prioritize deporting people who illegally crossed the border under Biden, over people who have lived in the U.S. for years and are "actually trying to be productive and have a job."
We rate the ad’s claims False.
MAGA Inc., Poisoning, Jan. 8, 2024
The Aspen Institute, A conversation with Republican governors: What the future holds, July 21, 2015
Nikki Haley, More Trump lies on Haley’s immigration record, Jan. 8, 2024
Bipartisan Policy Center, Decriminalizing illegal border crossing: What does it mean? An explainer of civil vs. criminal immigration enforcement, Jan. 15, 2020
PolitiFact, Donald Trump ad wrongly describes Nikki Haley’s position on a border wall, travel ban, Jan. 5, 2024
Breitbart, Nikki Haley repeats amnesty offer for pre-2021 illegal aliens, Dec. 6, 2023
NPR, Where the Republican presidential candidates stand on immigration, Dec. 13, 2023
Forbes, JUST IN: Nikki Haley answers New Hampshire voter questions during town hall, Nov. 2, 2023
Migration Policy Institute, Profile of the unauthorized population: United States, accessed Jan. 22, 2024
The Washington Post, Pro-Trump anti-immigrant ad makes it seem as if Haley coddles ‘criminals’, Jan. 17, 2024
Email exchange, MAGA Inc. spokesperson, Jan. 22, 2024
Email exchange, Nikki Haley campaign spokesperson, Jan. 21, 2024
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