It’s unclear what exactly Donald Trump wants to do when it comes to the 11 million immigrants illegally living in the United States.
For months, Trump has firmly said that he would implement mass deportations, saying last summer that all undocumented immigrants “have to go.” Then in June, he seemed to express hesitation over using the term “mass deportations,” although his aides would not say whether his position had changed. In a meeting on Saturday with his newly formed Hispanic advisory panel, Trump asked to hear their policy ideas.
On Sunday morning, his newly installed campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was asked during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether Trump still wants “a deportation force removing the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants.”
“To be determined,” said Conway, who in the past has supported creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants illegally living in the United States.
Earlier in the interview, she described Trump’s immigration position in this way: “What he supports is to make sure that we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for well-paying jobs and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country.”
Conway said that “as the weeks unfold,” Trump will reveal the specifics of his immigration plan. Trump and his aides have also been unclear on whether he still wants to temporarily bar most foreign Muslims from entering the country. Trump is expected to give a major policy speech about immigration on Thursday in Colorado.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign responded to Conway’s comments by listing comments Trump has made in the past year firmly calling for mass deportations and comparing his plan to “Operation Wetback,” deportations carried out during the 1950s under President Dwight Eisenhower.
“Whether Donald Trump’s immigration plan includes a deportation squad to forcibly remove millions of families from their homes has been asked and answered by the candidate himself time and time again,” Lorella Praeli, Hillary for America’s national Latino vote director, said in a statement. “When someone running for president says he looks upon a plan called Operation Wetback favorably, we should believe him the first dozen times he lays out his intentions.”
Trump’s Hispanic advisory board, made up of 23 faith and business leaders and a few former government officials, met with the nominee in his 25th-floor boardroom at Trump Tower on Saturday. Immigration — a significant concern for Hispanic voters and a central issue of Trump’s candidacy — came up at the candidate’s prompting, according to Jacob Monty, a Houston-based immigration attorney who handles complex immigration issues for large corporations, including the New York Yankees.
“He addressed the immigration issue himself and said, ‘Look, I know it’s an issue. The biggest problem is the 11 million that are here.’ He asked for our input on how to deal with them,” Monty said.
Trump invited his new advisory board to attend his policy speech in Colorado. But at no time during the meeting did Trump share any specifics on how to revamp the immigration system, according to attendees.
“He listened to the comments and suggestions made by the various board members, but he never indicated what his immigration policy would be,” said Helen Aguirre Ferré, the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic communications director and a key emissary between the GOP’s command structure and the few national Hispanic conservative leaders willing to publicly endorse Trump.
Aguirre Ferré said Trump “was clear” that he’s crafting his immigration policy and didn’t commit to any of the ideas presented at the meeting, although the full group agreed with him that border security should be an important part of any overhaul of immigration policy.
Monty agreed with that summary of the meeting, saying Trump “didn’t specify what he was going to do, but the questions he asked and concerns he expressed seemed to indicate that he’s open to a solution that is fair, compassionate.”
“Everyone in there was a supporter already. He didn’t have to say anything — we’re there,” said Monty, a former “bundler” for the presidential campaign of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. “He had us at the fact that he’s not Hillary. He was meeting with friends, he didn’t have to say something to get us on board — he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to say something to get us on board anyway.”
Members of the 23-member advisory panel hail from several states and include Jovita Carranza, who was a deputy administrator at the Small Business Administration during George W. Bush’s administration; Joseph Guzman, president of American Society of Hispanic Economists, and Massey Villarreal, a Houston-based executive of a computer consulting firm and a board member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.