Trump's Many Shifts On Immigration Confuse Supporters And Opponents

Aug 26, 2016
Originally published on August 26, 2016 6:34 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The big political question this week is this - what does Donald Trump want to do about the estimated 11 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally? Trump has run his whole campaign as a hardliner on immigration. But as NPR's Scott Detrow reports, the Republican offered several different signals on the issue during his TV appearances this week.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: It all started, as it often does with Trump, on Fox News. Appearing on Bill O'Reilly's show in the days after several news outlets had suggested a major shift on immigration. Trump seemed to take a step back from the deportation force he had previously called for to expel people living in the country illegally.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR")

DONALD TRUMP: As far as everybody else, we're going to go through the process. What people don't know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country - Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws.

DETROW: Trump had previously blasted Barack Obama and George W. Bush's immigration policies, but here he was talking about enforcing existing laws. Later in the week, Trump was back on Fox, this time appearing during a town hall with Sean Hannity. First, Trump polled the audience on what he should do about the people already here but who hadn't broken any other laws - deport them or let them stay?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Number one, we'll say throw out. Number two, we work with them - ready? Number one...

(CHEERING)

SEAN HANNITY: Number two.

TRUMP: Number two.

DETROW: Then he seemed to test out a new position - letting people already in the country stay, but without the promise of citizenship.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Let me go a step further. They'll pay back taxes. They have to pay taxes. There's no amnesty as such. There's no amnesty.

HANNITY: Right.

TRUMP: But we work with them. Now...

DETROW: It all sounded a lot like the positions held by former primary opponents like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. But then on Thursday, Trump seemed to backtrack again, this time on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: There is no path to legalization unless they leave the country and come back.

DETROW: The shifting answers in interviews had many Trump critics taking fire at the GOP nominee. Jeb Bush blasted Trump during an interview on New York's WABC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: Sounds like a typical politician, by the way, where you get in front of one crowd and say one thing and then say something else to another crowd that may want to hear a different view. All the things that Donald Trump railed against, he seems to be morphing into.

DETROW: Trump's immigration allies are frustrated, too. Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, where he pushes for a very tough stance on border security and immigrants living in the country illegally.

MARK KRIKORIAN: I don't think this is a flip-flop. It's more like a meander. He's kind of wandering from one thing to another.

DETROW: Krikorian says that wouldn't be as big of an issue if the topic were, say, gun control or the right foreign policy for Ukraine. But this, he says, is Trump's signature issue.

KRIKORIAN: He's now been running as mister immigration man for over a year and still doesn't seem to have figured out what his position is on immigration.

DETROW: Some clarity could come soon. Trump has promised to give a speech laying out his immigration vision in the next week or so. But even the speech itself is creating some confusion with several different dates and locations already being floated and then scuttled for the event. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.