At a town hall hosted by Fox News Tuesday night in Texas, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that “there’s certainly can be a softening” on how to address the country’s undocumented population. His comments came during this exchange with Fox’s Sean Hannity:
HANNITY: I know this question has come up a lot. What about people that work hard, that been here a long time. They own homes. They have their property. This is a question everyone’s going to want answered. What about them? Do they have to go back or would you reconsider that?
TRUMP: We are going to follow the laws of the country, Sean…
HANNITY: So that means they go back…
TRUMP: We’re going to follow the law, and we’re going to see who people are, we’re going to see how they’ve done. Do you believe in a marriage system, Sean? When people come in, as an example. Do you believe in a marriage system? One of the things that’s very unfair with leaving people is that you have years and years of waiting on line. They’ve gone through a process, they file…
TRUMP: Legally. They filed. And they’re great people. 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. It’s really sort of unfair.
HANNITY: Is there any part of the law you might be able to change that would accommodate those people that contribute to society, have been law-abiding, have kids here? Would there be any room in your mind… because I know you had a meeting with Hispanic leaders…
TRUMP: I did. I did. I did. I had a meeting with great people, great Hispanic leaders, and there’s 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, great people in this country. But we’re going to follow the laws of this country.
HANNITY: Any specific changes you want to make?
TRUMP: What people don’t realize, what people don’t realize… we have very very strong laws.
HANNITY: But Obama doesn’t follow them. He doesn’t care.
TRUMP: No, they don’t follow them. But we’re going to follow the laws.
Trump’s comments appear to be a departure from last year, when he went on 60 Minutes and said that he would “round up” immigrants in a “very humane way, in a very nice way.”
Recently, Trump’s poll numbers with Latino voters have been the lowest of any Republican candidate since 1980 and they continue to trend downward. In the past week, there have been reports that his campaign is trying to soften its stance on immigration, although a Trump campaign spokesperson also said that plans to set up a “deportation force” are “to be determined.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Lorella Praeli, National Director of the Latino Vote for the Hillary Clinton campaign, issued the following statement about Trump’s immigration comments:
“Yesterday in Texas, Trump doubled down on his dangerous immigration policies and once again falsely painted Latinos as criminals. Here’s a message for Trump: Latinos can see through your cynical ploys–no play of words can hide the fact that you’ve built your entire campaign on a dangerous agenda that seeks to demonize immigrants, deport 16 million people, build a giant concrete wall and send a deportation force into our communities. You can’t fool us.”
From 2008 to 2015, the United States has removed close to 3 million undocumented individuals from the country. (Source) There has also been a trend to prioritize convicted criminals over non-criminal immigration violators, as the chart below shows: