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The Republican presidential candidate’s hard-line stance and policy proposals surrounding illegal immigration have been a centerpiece to his campaign. But over the past week, he’s shown signs of rolling back the more extreme measures, most notably his support for the mass deportation of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
In a Tuesday conversation with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump said he would consider changing aspects of immigration law as it relates to people who immigrated to the U.S. illegally but have not otherwise broken the law.
“There certainly could be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people. We want people. We have some great people in this country … but we’re going to follow the laws of this country,” he told the Fox News host during a town hall.
Trump described the two-tier policy toward illegal immigration that he touched upon the day before. He said his administration would follow the laws that are already in place to deport known criminals immediately and then deal with everyone else.
“If you start going around trying to make new laws in this country, it’s a process that is brutal,” he said. “We want to follow the laws of the country. And if we follow the laws, we can do what we have to do.”
Trump’s comments on Tuesday were only the latest in a series of recent statements in which he’s muddled his caustic tone toward illegal immigration. He infamously launched his campaign accusing the Mexican government of sending rapists over the border, and as recently as last week, he released his first general-election TV ad accusing rival Hillary Clinton of wanting to throw open the U.S. border.
But after Trump met last weekend with a Hispanic advisory council, some members said Trump told them he was open to granting legal status to some of the people who immigrated to the U.S. illegally. His campaign denied that Trump’s position had changed, but in a Monday interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, the GOP nominee said his focus would be on deporting criminals, and he even favorably cited President Obama’s own approach to deportation.
During his Tuesday interview with Hannity, Trump also said allowing people to stay in the U.S. after immigrating illegally would be unfair to others who obeyed the law and immigrated into the country using the appropriate channels.
“You have years and years of people waiting on line. They’ve gone through a process, and they’ve filed — legally — they filed,” he said. “They’re great people in some cases. I guess in some cases maybe not. But you have really great people wanting — and so proudly wanting — to come into our country. And now what you’d be doing is you’d take people away from that line.”
According to the Trump campaign’s website, he believes there are three core principles that would guide effective immigration reform: a nation without borders is not a nation, a nation without laws is not a nation, and a nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation.
“We are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own,” his site reads. “That must change.”
Clinton has promised to introduce within 100 days of stepping into the Oval Office comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to full citizenship.