Surprise! Donald Trump’s self-declared “softening” on immigration is gone, replaced by a recommitment to a hardline policy that could best be described as mass deportation.
Shouting his remarks to a fired-up crowd in Arizona, which has been home to some of the most contentious immigration policy fights of the last decade, Trump pledged a maximal approach that would target every undocumented immigrant in the country without mercy.
“There will be no amnesty,” Trump said. “Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country.”
The speech came just hours after Trump appeared in Mexico, where he struck a more conciliatory tone after meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Trump’s warm-up speakers Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) wore “Make Mexico Great Again Also” hats.
"We will build a great wall along the southern border,” Trump said in Arizona before being drowned out by cheers. “And Mexico will pay for the wall."
Whatever crisis of conscience Trump had this month after talking to Hispanic supporters and hearing tales of longtime residents torn from their families passed in the rear-view mirror. Instead, Trump used his remarks in Arizona to reassure his core supporters that he would focus on deporting criminals, but remain true to his original pledge to target all undocumented immigrants without mercy, whether illegal workers or DREAMers or the parents of U.S. citizens.
“We will set priorities, but unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement,” Trump said.
After repeating horrifying tales of murders and rapes committed by undocumented immigrants that he highlighted at his convention, Trump said that anyone who enters the country illegally would be "subject to deportation” and that "is what it means to have laws."
Trump’s only advice to undocumented immigrants was to leave the country and try to enter legally. There is no current means for the overwhelming majority to do so — many are barred under current law from even applying for years — and Trump offered no plans to expedite their reentry. In fact, he suggested he would restrict legal immigration levels further in order to reduce competition with American workers.
Meanwhile, Trump promised a far more sweeping enforcement regime to carry out his hard turn.
He said he would create a “new special deportation task force” to focus on tracking criminals. But he also promised a major expansion of enforcement in general, including a recommitment to an earlier proposal to triple the number of ICE agents devoted to enforcing immigration laws within the country. He proposed requiring all businesses to use an e-verify system to screen illegal workers and a return to work-site raids.
“If we only enforce the laws against crime, then we have an open border to the entire world,” Trump said.
Trump also pledged to deport any undocumented immigrant taken in by law enforcement without regard to the severity of their crime or whether they were convicted. To add teeth to this measure, he threatened to cut off federal funding to any “sanctuary city” that ordered local authorities not to work with federal immigration officials.
“We will issue detainers for illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever and they will be placed in immediate removal proceedings — if we even have to do that,” Trump said.
To the extent there was a pivot, it appeared to be from the hard right to the alt right.
“I think I'll watch this speech every night before going to bed so that I will sleep like a baby,” conservative author Ann Coulter, who had chided Trump for waffling on immigration earlier this month, tweeted.
At the end, he offered a briefest nod to a possible point, far in the future, when he might consider a “discussion” about what to do with remaining undocumented population, a line that contradicted his earlier pledge in the speech to never entertain legalization.
But the overall message was clear. When it comes to Trump’s platform now, and not in some hypothetical land where illegal immigration has been ended, the plan is mass deportation.