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Interpreting Trump: sure sounds like he now wants to leave law-abiding undocumented immigrants alone

“See what happens” is the operative phrase Trump has been using.

Donald Trump’s gonna build a wall. A “real wall” that “absolutely works.”
REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

I and others have had perhaps a bit too much fun watching Team Trump break into the old soft shoe when asked what Donald Trump might have meant when he recently said that “there certainly can be a softening” of his primary-campaign position that he would deport all of the estimated 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the United States, (even if he had to create a special “deportation force” to “humanely” deport all those who did not enter the country legally).

I myself skewered Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway for giving several consecutive flight-of-the-bumblebee answers to John Dickerson on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” that shed absolutely no light on what kind of “softening” Trump might have meant to portend. Other Trump surrogates up to and including his running mate Mike Pence, gave similar performances.

But, my bad, I did not realize that Trump himself had already pretty much answered the question, to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, while I was still hiking in the national parks. Trump is planning a major address today (Wednesday) in Phoenix to lay this out, perhaps more clearly. But if you want to know what he will say about the 11 million, many of whom have committed no crime other than the way they came into the country, here it is:

He will leave them alone. He will not offer them a “path to citizenship” unless they take themselves out of the country (self-deportation) and then re-enter legally. But, if they don’t commit other crimes, he will leave them alone and “see what happens.” Their U.S.-born children, if they have any, will be citizens. And, when the parents die off or go back to their native land, the story will end the way it has for many previous generations of immigrants, which always included quite a few who entered illegally and never became citizens.

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I am engaging in perhaps a tiny bit of interpretation, but if you watch the Trump-Cooper interview, I suspect you will come to the same conclusion. He interrupted Cooper on various occasions so Cooper could not get the level of clarity he sought, but he got plenty.

All of the other things that have been part of Trump’s immigration position will remain. He’s gonna build a wall. A “real wall” that “absolutely works.” (He describes many of its features.)

Mexico will pay for it. (He added no new information on how he will make Mexico pay for it to the many ludicrous-sounding versions he has offered in the past, like saying that every time Mexico refuses to pay, the wall get 10 feet higher. But he reiterated that they will pay.) The wall will stop once and for all the problem of people entering the country illegally. Those who previously snuck in will have to leave and come back and apply for legal re-entry if they want to obtain legal status as resident aliens or perhaps get on the path to citizenship.

That leaves the millions who are in the country illegally who don’t self-deport. (Trump objected every time Cooper referred to them as the “11 million,” because, he said, no one really knows how many there are, a point that Cooper rightly conceded. Said Trump: “Could be less than 11 million. Could be 50 million.”)

Most of them will not be rounded up and deported, at least not right away and perhaps never. But the “bad dudes” who snuck in, those who are committing crimes, who are “the heads of gangs and drug cartels and all kinds of things” will be captured and deported and never allowed back in (and, of course will be unable to sneak back in because of the wall). Trump estimated there could be millions in the “bad dude” category, but “certainly hundreds of thousands.”)

The police, he said, know who these bad guys are and where they are. (Trump did not explain why, if that’s the case, they are not already in custody, or in prison, or already deported.)  The first document he will sign upon becoming president, Trump said, will instruct law enforcement authorities to “get the bad ones out of this country. Bring them back where they came from.”

As part of Trump’s plan, “we’re going to end sanctuary cities,” which refers to cities around the country that officially or unofficially don’t cooperate with the enforcement of immigration laws.

“And after that,” Trump said, “we’re going to see what happens.” To clarify what that might mean, he said: “It’s a process. You can’t just take 11 million at one time and, boom, they’re gone.” Cooper tried to get him to clearly state whether that meant there was a possibility that, other than the bad ones, the rest can stay. Trump admitted this was a possibility but “see what happens” was the operative phrase, which he repeated many times, to describe his attitude to the undocumented immigrants who do not self-deport and who are not actively engaged in crimes.

Cooper tried to ask him whether this was what he meant when he said “there certainly can be a softening” of the deport everyone policy he had earlier described. Trump interrupted with:

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“I don’t think it’s a ‘softening’ [failing to acknowledge that this was exactly the word he had used that started this whole controversy]; “I’ve had people say that they think it’s a ‘hardening.’ “

This interview aired last Thursday. You can watch it for yourself here.