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

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

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.

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:

“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.

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/31/2016 - 09:49 am.

    Conditional Correctness

    “I am engaging in perhaps a tiny bit of interpretation, but…” Yup

    Sure wouldn’t want to be the “President’s Analyst” come January. [regardless of winner]

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/31/2016 - 10:58 am.

    In Other Words, Nothing

    Apart from The Wall, it doesn’t sound like he has planned much by way of a change in immigration policy.

    Undocumented aliens cannot apply for residency (the first step towards acquiring citizenship) unless they fall within the guidelines for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Birthright citizenship is not something the President gets to decide (he won’t repeal the 14th Amendment. Hooray for him). Most undocumented aliens, including models here on tourist visas, manage to avoid deportation as long as they behave themselves.

    The only real change would be “ending” sanctuary cities. That will take some explaining: How do yo force local governments to cooperate with federal law enforcement? I’ll bet the 10th Amendment and “states’ rights” fans out there will be all over this one.

    Even when he tries to say something, he has nothing.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/01/2016 - 03:00 pm.

      I’ll bet the 10th Amendment and “states’ rights” fans out there

      I’d take that bet if I thought Trump stood a chance of taking the White House and then trying to fulfill a single campaign promise.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/31/2016 - 11:53 am.

    My 2¢

    I certainly agree with RB Holbrook’s last sentence.

    For what little it’s worth, my take is that Mr. Trump’s immigration stance seems open to “a tiny bit of interpretation” because Mr. Trump doesn’t HAVE a carefully-thought-out immigration policy, at least not yet. The winds of popular opinion being what they are, and politicians being in constant search of votes during an election season, he’s sensible enough to at least attempt the proverbial mid-course correction when there’s enough blowback from polls and outraged citizens standing in front of TV cameras. Anderson Cooper has a tough time nailing down Trump’s position because he’s trying to get Jell-O to stick to the wall. It’s a sisyphean task.

    “We’ll see what happens” is both an encouraging sign of flexibility from someone whose knee-jerk reactions tend to have hard edges, and an admission that “I don’t know” would be the more honest answer.

    I’m also happy to see RB Holbrook mention that, in the context of immigration, among other things, repealing the 14th Amendment is not among the prerogatives of the president (or Mitch McConnell, or any of the other pre-convention GOP candidates). On the other hand, my suspicion is that much of the volume and outrage from those purporting to be dedicated to “states’ rights” and the 10th Amendment over the federal government overstepping its bounds when enforcing, let’s say, civil rights, would magically disappear if Trump is elected, and Republican xonophobia were allowed out of the shadows in which it currently resides.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/31/2016 - 11:55 am.

    One sure fire way

    to know when Trump is lying (other than the fact his lips are moving) is to note when he says “people say”. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never in his life backed that up by identifying a single person claimed to have made the statement in question.

    • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 08/31/2016 - 02:35 pm.

      The other way to tell if Trump is lying…

      His lips are moving. (old joke – couldn’t resist)

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 08/31/2016 - 02:46 pm.


      You’d think he would at least say, “Survey Says,” in keeping with that old game exclamation. Even sounds more authoritative. If really pushed as to particulars, his Donaldian response could be: “In the survey of my mind. I do that, you know. My God! I am in the commercial development business! I build buildings.”

      If Trump is nearly as numbers-minded as accursed, [typo, but I like it] accused, he should be able to quickly memorize many significant references to use until November. He could rattle off numbers and such like a machine gun (oh, yah…well, whatever) like . That would glaze many debate weary eyes, especially HRC’s.

      Then we’d finally have substance to discuss. Man, what he could do with a list of government manuals and statistics and growth forecasts and gobbledy-gov-gook hot off the laptop. We’d wait 5 minutes for a response, no doubt. And, that would be as entertaining as the English teacher’s Fall play from the back of the book.

      Popular Saying: It’s much more fun to laugh at them than with them.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/31/2016 - 12:03 pm.

    Another of America self inflicted problems

    The immigration issue is purely a self-inflicted wound totally caused by politicians. The Hispanics that come across the border are good, cheap laborers who are good for business. It was and is caused by political inaction, plain and simple. The Hispanics are a very valuable resource for the big American agriculture businesses, hotel/motel businesses, and dairy farms in California, Florida, and Minnesota and wherever these businesses exist. Republican President George W. Bush’s standard retort when asked about the illegal immigrants was “They are doing the job Americans won’t do”. This has been going on so long now the Hispanic’s have children, who are legal American Citizens. Grand standing on “no amnesty” the politicians are all acting like they didn’t have anything to do with this problem, when “they created it”. Morally the kids can’t remain in the US and send their parents back to their country of origin. The problem needs to be figured out and figured out soon or it is going to do nothing but get worse. A 2,000-mile-long wall and deportation of 11 million people simply isn’t realistic. Now is the time to force the politicians into action. We’ll see who has the courage to come up with a reasonable solution during this election cycle.

    Michele Bachman. In all her wisdom recently said, “God picked Trump”. I believe she is right. God did it to punish the dysfunctional Republican Party. Even God has tired of the Republican fiction blitz, inconsistency and undiscernible Republican positions. Not even God could tell you what the Republican Party stands for.

    • Submitted by Patrick Tice on 08/31/2016 - 04:45 pm.

      Exactly so.

      The obvious benefits of immigration in the practical world simply outweigh any downside – which is mostly about “legal issues”. The failure of politicians to craft workable immigration policy is at the core of the problem, and the best thing to do is to wipe the slate clean (or press “delete” for those who aren’t old school) and start over, informed by the best experts in the field rather than talk show hosts and wild-eyed ideologues.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/31/2016 - 06:21 pm.

      Broaden Your View

      The US in the last few decades is far from the only country in the world to have large numbers of undocumented immigrants. It’s not at all uncommon round the world, today or in the past. So to call it a self-inflicted wound caused by politicians is extremely short sighted.

      Think about it, if I can work here for $3/day or walk across the street for $10/hour, how many people like me will keep working for $3/day? And US politicians caused this?

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/31/2016 - 07:06 pm.

        The politicians, our lawmakers, created the immigration mess.

        I fully understand why the Hispanics come here. I would do the same. It is the phony politicians that act like they didn’t have a thing to do with the immigration mess that I’m pointing a finger at. They created the problem, it got away from them, and now they don’t know how to stop it or they don’t want to stop it. Deporting 11 million people or building a crazy wall isn’t the answer. I’m all for deporting those who have committed crimes here. They should be gone tomorrow, literally. I don’t know if the 11 million includes the American citizens in the Hispanic families. If it does, the Court System will be flooded with lawsuits. If the 11 million doesn’t include the American citizens in the Hispanic families, we, as a moral nation, can’t send part of the family back to their country of origin and leave their legal US citizen offspring here. At election time all the politicians claim they work across the aisle. Of course we know THAT ISN’T TRUE because we have GRIDLOCK. It is time to actually work across the aisle, have a backbone, and work to a viable, legal solution. The immigration mess is not a political issue, it is a moral issue.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/31/2016 - 09:16 pm.

          Uh, Not All of Them

          There is a new breed of politician of late. They wear their refusal to compromise like a badge of honor, and make it a point at election time to say they won’t be working with the opposition.

          On the other hand, off hand the last time I recall politicians working with the opposition was the Wall Street/mega bank bailout. Or was it the Iraq invasion?

      • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/01/2016 - 03:23 pm.

        Criminal prosecution of Employers

        Is the difference. Woe on to the business person who hires an undocumented employee in any of the EU counties. Too many employees or repeat offenses and our business could be shut down. Start putting CEOs in prison for extended periods of time and see how employment opportunities for undocumented workers falls. With no jobs here, their numbers will dwindle dramatically.

  6. Submitted by Phil Dech on 08/31/2016 - 06:53 pm.

    The vacillations

    between the candidate, his actual campaign employees, and his surrogates on this issue have been whiplash-inducing the last couple of weeks. For our collective sanity I hope that we will no longer have to tea-read Trump in 69 days or so…

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/01/2016 - 08:24 am.

    And, today the news is….

    rapists, murderers, criminals…

    deport them all…

    Mr. Mannerly in Mexico becomes a raging bull in the US

    Somehow he even got Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions to wear hats that said “Make Mexico Great Again Also” (Really! A two-fer—Mexico and Mexican immigrants insulted n the same day)

    He doesn’t seem to realize that that these are days when most things are in view to everyone.

    A clear and present danger to America.

  8. Submitted by Steven James Beto on 09/01/2016 - 12:08 pm.

    The Lessons of History

    A wall did not work for China, the Romans, or for Russia. To paraphrase President Reagan, ‘Mr. Trump, tear down that wall’.

  9. Submitted by John Appelen on 09/02/2016 - 08:41 am.


    Based on the last numbers I saw, net illegal immigration was about zero. Now that sounds good until one digs and finds out that it means that ~400,000 people entered the country with no backgrounds checks and that we Americans had to pay to process and deport 400,000 people. Not to mention the amount of illegal drugs imported from down South.

    What is your rationale that this is adequate / acceptable border security?

    And for the folks who want higher wages for Americans with low skill and/or academic capabilities, do you support having an open border even though it keeps downward pressure on the wages of these American citizens? What is your rationale?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/05/2016 - 07:19 pm.

      Thinking or Feeling

      So one of my readers thinks.

      “There are two basic rationales for lax border security. For Republicans, open borders means an influx of cheap labor which drives down wages. For Democrats, open border is favored by base supporters of our party and because ultimately, it is assumed possibly quite wrongly, that children of illegal aliens will vote Democratic. That, and really the cost and difficulty of closing borders, is why we have the policies we do.”

      Personally I think it is because Liberals feel sorry for the Central Americans and Mexicans who want to escape to the USA. Even if it means they will compete for the entry level jobs and depress the wages.

      What do you think?

  10. Submitted by Jim Halonen on 09/02/2016 - 08:53 am.

    Is Trump plagiarizing?

    Yesterday listening to a radio host based in LA, I heard a re-run of a 1995 President Bill Clinton illegal immigration speech that sounded just like Don Trump – except Bill might have been a little more direct and passionate. A Harry Reid clip was played also that would get a person a naughty label today. Interesting.

  11. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/02/2016 - 10:22 am.

    Don’t worry…

    If he should be elected President, Trump will be consumed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year with settling scores against everyone who has ever offended him. The list is endless. He won’t accomplish anything, but, he will be happy with himself and 2020 will be here before you know it….

  12. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 09/02/2016 - 02:25 pm.


    One of the few things I took pride in when I worked at the Star Tribune was that I could say I worked at the same place as Eric Black. I’ve always loved your thoughtful writing there and here. But this time I have to say you’re just wrong. (First time for everything, I guess)

    Go over to Talking points memo and read Josh Marshall’s take on Trump’s speech as hate speech. I think it reveals the real Trump and it scares me not only for the illegal immigrants but for the rest of us as well.

  13. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/06/2016 - 01:33 pm.

    Illegal immigration

    is good business. And if he’s nothing else, Trump is a good businessman. I mean, why would you hire someone here legally at minimum wage, when you can exploit an illegal immigrant for less? It’s not like you’ll be punished for hiring them–it’s their fault for being here, in the first place, right?

    Yes, the above disgusts me, but it’s the reality of the situation. Especially since many illegal immigrants are employed by home owners and businesses that are considered “small businesses” and small businesses are sacred. (Not to say that all small businesses (or even a majority) are hiring illegal immigrants or that all small business owners vote GOP, let alone for Trump.) My guess is that Trump softening his stance has little to do with bringing back women, minorities, or undecideds as much as it is making sure that the GOP doesn’t lose its most important audience–small businesses and home owners. If they lose small businesses owners, all they’ll have left are uneducated white men. In 1776 that might have been fine, but things have changed a tiny bit since then.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/06/2016 - 03:42 pm.


      If you find this so repugnant, does this mean you support building the wall to protect foreign illegal immigrants from coming here without documentation and background checks to be used by the unscrupulous housewives who want their lawns well maintained? And are you then for deporting all of them back to their home countries to save them from such ill use?

      By the way, how does one “exploit” a willing free employee. If you don’t pay enough, they leave and find a different job or go home.

      Now I am for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the country and for punishing people / companies who hire illegal immigrants… Hopefully they will then self deport and get in the “legal immigrant” line. We can always more legal immigrants…

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/07/2016 - 09:00 am.…

        I’m for reducing the incentive to come here by punishing the employers. As for “willing free employees”, you could say the same about trafficked people used for sex. Sure, they probably made some choice that led to them being treated as subhuman, but I can’t say that it was a fair choice. It’s a little more extreme than my kitchen rule of “eat what I made or don’t eat at all” because, at least in my kitchen, you have the opportunity to not actually starve.

        The current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on immigrant paperwork is ridiculous. Most employers know full well that they’re hiring illegal immigrants, but so long as they bat their eyelashes and file the right paperwork, it’s a-ok. How about we legislate mandatory E-verify checks for all employment (it’s free! so, why do only certain businesses and employers have to use it?) and fund improvements to it so that it actually works. Much more feasible than a wall–a concept that is deserving of only an eyeroll.

        I appreciate that you were well aware that the wall is a foolish lie believed only by those blinded by enough prejudice to push back the obvious truths. I don’t appreciate that you would put me into that category.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/07/2016 - 10:44 am.

          Oh Come Now

          I keep hearing that the folks who illegally enter the USA are law abiding hard working people who are just looking for a better life. Now how did you take us to the sex trafficking business? The slave trade is illegal no matter who is involved. (ie different topic… E verify will not help that. Though a wall may.)

          I am more of a belt and suspenders type of guy when it comes to national security, and a wall does not need to be a physical wall given the modern electronics that are available. So let’s get “E verify” and penalties in place to keep out the normal border violator, and let’s get the “Wall” in place to keep out the criminal border jumpers, smugglers, terrorists, etc.

          • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/07/2016 - 01:36 pm.

            Read the whole thing

            Then comment. You saw 4 words in my reply and then started typing, stringing the 4 words together in a single concept such that it no longer resembles what I said. That’s called distortion, which is a dishonest form of communication.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/07/2016 - 05:03 pm.

              Actually I read every word twice before I started typing, and I agreed to your opinion that strengthening E Verify and punishing employers more harshly is an excellent idea. Unfortunately you seem to be intent on making home owners, farmers, and other businesses the single focus of blame/ remedy.

              The reality however is that many people cross the border who will not be dissuaded by that remedy. So what is your rationale for keeping the border insecure?

              I mean just think of how poor border security is that 400,000 people can get across every year… And think of all the drugs, sex slaves, etc that can also come across. Worse yet, think of all the folks from Central America who risk death just to try.

              Let’s lock down that border and increase the number of legal immigrants who can enter the country after thorough background checks and waiting in an orderly line. (ie nobody likes a line budger)

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