After months of demanding that all illegal immigrants leave the United States, Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he might be open to “softening” the laws to benefit some of the 11 million immigrants currently living illegally in the country.
Trump’s comment came during a town hall with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in Texas that aired on Tuesday night. It provides the latest indication that the Republican nominee plans to soften his stance on mass deportations, which would be a major shift for a candidate whose campaign has focused heavily on aggressively cracking down on illegal immigration.
“Is there any part of the law that you might be able to change that would accommodate those people that contribute to society, have been law-abiding, have kids here?” Hannity asked at one point. “Would there be any room in your mind?”
“There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump responded. “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. And what people don’t realize, we have very, very strong laws.”
Trump said numerous times that he would enforce the country’s immigration laws — which forbid coming into the country illegally — and reward those who follow the legal process.
Trump and his aides have made clear that he’s still wrestling with how to handle the millions of immigrants who came to the United States illegally but have made a home here. Trump’s formal immigration policy, released last summer, did not address this issue, but Trump has publicly said that all illegal immigrants “have to go” and that he would use “deportation forces” to carry out the task.
During the town hall, Trump polled the audience on the issue of mass deportations, getting a mixed response, and promised he “would come out with a decision very soon.”
On Monday night, Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he would immediately deport any illegal immigrants who are violent criminals or gang members, something that’s already happening in many cases. But he was vague on what to do with those who remain, saying that he plans to continue to do “the same thing” that the Obama administration has done, although “perhaps with a lot more energy.”
Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN Tuesday night that Trump’s “tough stance on immigration will not change,” although she acknowledged that he could change on the issue of mass deportations. In the past, Conway has advocated for creating a pathway to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
At a rally in Austin on Tuesday night, Trump once again promised to build a massive wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for the wall, his core immigration stance from which he has yet to waver. The crowd repeatedly chanted: “Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!”
“We are going to enforce the law,” Trump said. “We’re going to protect your jobs and your wages, we are going to protect them. Your companies are not going to flee our country, think they can make their product and sell it back into our country without serious repercussion. We are going to keep our country safe.”
During the rally, Trump was joined on stage by mothers of children who were killed by illegal immigrants. Several of the women spoke, sharing pieces of their emotional stories and saying that Trump is the only politician who will crack down on violent illegal immigrants.
“Your children did not die in vain because we are not going to allow it to happen to others,” Trump said.