Donald Trump Delivers Immigration Policy Speech In Arizona

Sep 1, 2016
Originally published on September 1, 2016 8:05 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's try to clarify where Republican Donald Trump stands on immigration. We'll also ask how that differs from Democrat Hillary Clinton's approach. We're doing this on the morning after Trump took part in two dramatic events. He traveled to Mexico City to meet with Mexico's president. Then, he returned to the United States to give a big immigration speech. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been covering this campaign.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, let's just remember the old Trump immigration plan - deport all 11 million or so people here illegally, no matter the cost, build a bigger wall on the border and all of that delivered alongside descriptions of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and so forth. Did any of the substance change in his speech last night?

LIASSON: No, it didn't. There was a lot of talk before the speech about whether he would clarify his policies. He, himself, even talked about maybe softening on immigration. But last night, we heard no softening at all. It was really a doubling down on his apocalyptic vision of immigration and what he says are its effects on America - killing innocent people, taking jobs and making us a country without laws.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, stay with this, Mara. We're going to listen to Trump's words here and then work through them a little bit. Our colleague Scott Detrow was at the speech in Phoenix.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: In Phoenix, it felt like Donald Trump had left the restrained, diplomatic version of himself back in Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back.

DETROW: For more than an hour, Trump warned the large receptive crowd about the dangers of immigrants entering the country illegally, a theme he'd spent a lot of time on over the course of his campaign. For the past two weeks, Trump had hinted several times he was about to moderate his views on the topic, only to backtrack.

Facing questions about where he stood on his signature issue, last night, Trump laid out what he'd do as president. On day one in the White House, Trump said, he'd begin to target and deport immigrants in the country illegally who had committed crimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Zero tolerance for criminal aliens - zero, zero.

DETROW: Trump said he'd hire more immigration officers and make sure federal and local law enforcement work much more closely together. He said he'd improve tracking for people entering the country on visas, to make sure they don't overstay their welcome. And as for that wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump still plans on building it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And Mexico will pay for the wall.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: That promise came hours after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that when the two met earlier in the day, he told Trump there's no way Mexico will foot the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: They don't know it yet, but they're going to pay for the wall.

DETROW: Trump even promised major changes to legal immigration, saying he'd restrict the number of people coming into the country. He wants to weigh applications based on immigrants' skills and ability, as he put it, to assimilate into American culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We take anybody. Come on in. Anybody, just come on in - not anymore.

DETROW: But what about that key question Trump had appeared to waver on in recent weeks - what to do with the estimated 11 million people already here illegally? At first, Trump dismissed the questions, saying only the out-of-touch elite care about their fate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: That's never really been the central issue. It will never be a central issue.

DETROW: But he returned to the question later, appearing to close the door on a path to citizenship. He said there's only one route - to leave the United States, go back to your home country and apply for entry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Our message to the world will be this. You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country - can't do it.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: Up until very recently, Trump vowed to deport anybody who's in the country illegally. But last night, Trump said a broad plan for those estimated 11 million people would need to wait until the border is more secure and people aren't entering the country illegally anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Then - and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain.

DETROW: Trump ended his speech by surrounding himself on stage with the parents of people killed by immigrants in the country illegally. The image underscored a central claim of the speech and of Trump's campaign that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally pose a deep threat to the country's prosperity and security.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Detrow is in Phoenix, where Trump spoke last night. NPR's Mara Liasson is on the line now.

Mara, I want to go through a couple of things that Trump said there and just check them a little bit. He said, quote, "these illegal workers draw more out of the system than they can possibly pay back." Is that true?

LIASSON: There's a debate about this. There are certainly economists, including some in the state of Texas, which our John Burnett reported on recently - who did a study that said undocumented immigrants contribute more than they get from the state.

But Donald Trump is not interested in debating the fine points of the economic contributions of immigrants. He is saying that illegal immigrants are killing us, and they've got to go. This is an emotional argument. This is not about the finer points of the economic contributions of illegal immigrants.

INSKEEP: Although, on the finer points of - some of the evidence would suggest he's wrong. But you're saying...

LIASSON: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...It's an emotional argument.

LIASSON: Yes.

INSKEEP: Now, he's also downplaying, at the same time, his plan to deport 11 million people who are here illegally. He said, quote, "that's never really been the central issue." Hasn't Trump, himself, made it the central issue?

LIASSON: He's made it the central issue, along with the wall. There's no doubt about that. And last night, on the one hand, he punted on this, as you heard in Scott's piece. He said, only after we completely stop illegal immigration can we discuss what should happen to these 11 million people. But he made it really clear what his policy was. He didn't talk about a massive deportation force. But he said there's only one route to get legal, which is go home and get in line with everyone else. And he also said, quote, "anyone in the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation."

INSKEEP: So - same policy but talking about it a little bit differently - what did Hillary Clinton have to say about all of this?

LIASSON: Well, Hillary Clinton's campaign excoriated Trump for his performance in Mexico. John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign, said Trump didn't just choke, he got beat in the room and lied about it. He's referring, of course, to Trump saying, we didn't discuss who'd pay for the wall, and the leader of Mexico saying, yes, we did, and I told him we wouldn't. Earlier in the day, in a speech, Hillary Clinton said that Trump couldn't just take one trip, one photo op in Mexico to make up for a year of insults. And here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: And it certainly takes more than trying to make up for a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours, and then flying home again. That is not how it works.

INSKEEP: Let's try to understand how Hillary Clinton's immigration plans work. Trump has accused her of pushing an open-borders amnesty policy, uses phrases like that a lot. Is that an accurate characterization?

LIASSON: It's not. He also said that she wants to give Obamacare, Medicare and Social Security to illegal immigrants, which is also not true. Hillary Clinton's policy is to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for tax-paying, law-abiding illegal immigrants currently here. She's also said if she can't get that plan through Congress, she is willing to do more than President Obama has done by executive order. So she's to the left of President Obama on this. And she's also spoken in terms of stopping the illegal deportation of children in the United States.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, what's the political effect of a day like yesterday?

LIASSON: Well, it's hard to tell because there were some - there were two different messages - the kind of subdued, co-operative message in Mexico and then the real firebrand doubling down on his message in Arizona. I think he seems to be pulled in two different directions. His campaign understands that he's underwater big time with Hispanics and college-educated whites. If the trip to Mexico was Kellyanne Conway, who's his campaign manager, the evening was Steve Bannon.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Oh, yeah, and we'll talk more about that. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.