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First Read: Trump Makes Support for Mass Deportation Clear

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo AllegriCARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump makes it clear: He’s for mass deportation

Well, we now have absolute clarity where Donald Trump stands on immigration after a week of uncertainty and mixed messages: He’s in favor of mass deportation of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States. “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump said in his big immigration speech in Phoenix last night. While raising the possibility last week that he could support a path to legal status for law-abiding undocumented immigrants, he all but closed that door in the short term. “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. Can't do it.” NBC’s Benjy Sarlin has more: “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.”

How to interpret the tiny door Trump left open at the end of his speech -- it’s akin to saying you might get back together after your divorce

At the end of his speech, however, Trump did crack the door open -- ever so slightly -- about what to do with the undocumented immigrants who remain after his goals have been accomplished. “In several years, when we have accomplished all of our enforcement and deportation goals and truly ended illegal immigration for good … then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain.” But saying that is akin to telling someone you might get back together after your divorce. “[T]he 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,” Sarlin adds.

Answering our four questions going into last night’s speech

Yesterday, we posed four questions that Trump needed to answer on immigration after a week of uncertainty and conflicting statements. Here’s how he answered them.

  • What, precisely, does Trump propose doing with the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the United States, especially those who are law abiding and have lived in the country for years and years? Trump’s answer: They have to go back. “For those here illegally today seeking legal status, will have one route only: to return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.”
  • If they must go, how do you accomplish it? Trump’s answer: “He said he would create a ‘new special deportation task force" to focus on tracking criminals,” Sarlin writes. “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 they must go, how do you pay for it? Trump’s answer: He didn’t give one.
  • Is Trump 100% certain on ending birthright citizenship? Trump’s answer: He didn’t mention the subject at all.
Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto prepare to deliver a joint press conference in Mexico City on Aug. 31.YURI CORTEZ / AFP - Getty Images

Trump’s speech undercut his earlier trip to Mexico

Strikingly, Trump’s hardline immigration speech undercut the tone and tenor of his subdued visit to Mexico just hours earlier. Here was Trump in Mexico when asked by reporters if he discussed with Mexican President Pena Nieto about whether Mexico would pay for the wall he’s talked about on the campaign trail. “We didn’t discuss that… We discussed the wall; we didn’t discuss payment of the wall.” But then here’s what he said in his Phoenix speech: “We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall... They don't know it yet, but they're gonna pay for the wall.” On top of it all, Pena Nieto tweeted that he told Trump -- at the outset of his conversation -- that Mexico wouldn’t be paying for the wall. On “Today” this morning, Hillary Clinton running mate Tim Kaine called Trump’s performance in Mexico “diplomatic amateur hour,” saying: “You can't say different things to different audiences.”

Reality check: Spending on border security and border patrol agents has skyrocketed, while illegal immigration apprehensions have plummeted

In his speech last night, Trump talked about “open borders” and floods of undocumented immigrants coming into the country. “President Obama and Hillary Clinton have engaged in gross dereliction of duty by surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders,” he said. But as NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell notes, Obama and his predecessors have greatly increased spending on border security. “Over the past 24 years, the amount of money spent on border security has increased 14 times; the number of border patrol agents have increased 500 percent; the amount of border wall has grown from 77 miles to 700 miles since 2000; and the number of people being apprehended trying to cross the border have decreased by four-fifths.”

Ann Coulter, David Duke cheer Trump’s speech; GOP Latinos say they’re disappointed

In case you’re confused about whether Trump hardened his approach to immigration or softened it, just look at the reactions. “I think I'll watch this speech every night before going to bed so that I will sleep like a baby,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted. And here wasDavid Duke: “Excellent speech by Donald Trump tonight. Deport criminal aliens, end catch and release, enforce immigration laws & America First.” By contrast, Republican Latinos say they’re disappointed. “This is how I feel: disappointed and misled,” said Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Here’s more from NBC Latino: “‘Awful!’ said Massey Villarreal, a Houston businessman who had opposed Trump, then supported him and was done with him after the Tuesday speech. ‘As a compassionate conservative, I am disappointed with the immigration speech. ‘I'm going to flip, but not flop. I am no longer supporting Trump for president, but cannot with any conscience support Hillary (Clinton),’ Villarreal told NBC Latino Tuesday night.”

On the trail

Trump takes his turn speaking before the American Legion convention in Cincinnati, OH at 9:00 am ET… Vice President Joe Biden stumps in the Hawkeye State for Clinton, hitting Warren (at 11:00 am ET) and Parma (at 5:45 pm ET)… Mike Pence is in Florida… And Tim Kaine spends his day in New Hampshire.

Countdown to Election Day: 68 days