Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump claps as he finishes a campaign speech in Charlotte, N.C., last week. On Monday, he softened his tone on immigration saying he would not initiate a mass deportation of undocumented individuals. Photo by Nell Redmond/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Donald Trump on Monday appeared to soften his stance on illegal immigration, saying his administration would not employ what he previously described as a "deportation force" to oust undocumented individuals and would instead delineate between "the bad ones" and "everybody else."
Essentially, Trump said, he would do what President Barack Obama is doing but "perhaps with a lot more energy."
Obama, Trump noted, has overseen more deportations than his predecessor, President George W. Bush. From 2009 to 2014, the Obama administration deported 2.4 million people. Bush deported 2 million people during his eight years.
"The existing laws are very strong," Trump said Monday on Fox News. "The existing laws, the first thing we're gonna do, if and when I win, is we're gonna get rid of all of the bad ones. We've got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country ... they're gonna be out of this country so fast your head will spin."
Trump's immigration shift comes after days of consulting with advisers and Hispanic supporters, and is a marked shift in style and substance from the strident illegal immigration tone he has struck since the day he announced his candidacy, when he accused Mexico of sending murderers and rapists to the United States illegally.
During the interview, Trump did not mention his signature proposal to build a wall on the southern border -- one he has insisted the Mexican government will pay to erect. He did, however, repeat that mantra at a campaign rally earlier Monday in Ohio, when the Los Angeles Times reported he veered away from his prepared remarks to respond to an audience chant of "build that wall!"
"Don't worry. We're going to build the wall," he said. "That wall will go up so fast, your head will spin. And you'll say, 'You know, he meant it.' And you know what else I mean? Mexico is going to pay for the wall."
Much of that rhetoric was gone Monday night, when Trump sought to allay concerns his immigration position was unfairly harsh. He also backed off claims he would create a "deportation force," to find and arrest undocumented people.
Instead, Trump said existing law enforcement would be empowered to make those decisions. Anyone caught with a criminal record in the country illegally would face immediate deportation. The remainder would be processed by the existing immigration courts.
"As far as everybody else, we're going to go through the process," Trump said. "What people don't know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I'm going to do the same thing."
Trump was also scheduled to give a major policy address on the topic of immigration Thursday in Colorado, but has since canceled that appearance.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said the schedule change was made to give Trump more time to formulate his positions on the issue.
"You know, we inherited this schedule and although I think it's a great idea to have that kind of speech and certainly put together a full plan, immigration is such a complex issue and Mr. Trump has been taking the counsel of many different people on this," Conway said. "He obviously has some very strong feelings and policy prescription with respect to immigration, but he's speaking to people to understand how to execute on those ideas."