Trump reiterates ultra-hard line on immigrants, Mexican wall
01 September 2016
For the past week and a half Donald Trump has been hinting that his hard-line immigration stance may be shifting. For every indication of softening, however - either from Trump himself or one of his camp - there's been a quick retrenchment.
"There's no different message," Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson said last week. "He's using different words to give that message." And this became clear when Trump delivered his much-hyped immigration speech on Wednesday night. The message was the same. But so, largely, were the words.
As he did during his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July, Trump eschewed calls for moderation and modulation, and instead delivered - indeed, shouted - the kind of red-meat populist message that powered him through his successful primary campaign.
As the BBC reports, there was no reaching out to minority voters, or display of a more empathetic side to attract moderate Republicans, particularly suburban women. Instead, Trump was combative as ever - and the Phoenix crowd loved it.
Once Trump got around to detailing the policy aspects in his "detailed policy address", he led with what, thanks to his surprise visit with President Enrique Pena Nieto, was already the topic of the day.
The Mexican border wall - that "impenetrable, physical , tall, powerful , beautiful" barrier, in Trump's words - would be built, he promised.
Just hours earlier a much more subdued Trump had said he spoke about the border wall in a private meeting with the Mexican president, but the subject of financing hadn't been discussed. "That'll be for a later date," he said.
This had set off a firestorm of debate over why, exactly, the Republican candidate had seemingly backed down from what had been one of the signature aspects of his candidacy. Was this the Great Pivot to the political middle in action?
After he had put thousand miles between him and Nieto, however, Trump gave his answer.
"Mexico will pay for the wall," he said. "A hundred percent. They don't know it yet, but they're going to pay for it."
Then there was racial talk. He painted a dark picture of a nation overrun by undocumented immigrants - even though numbers, particularly from Mexico, have declined in recent years.
Trump ticked off a laundry list of his hard-line immigration proposals, many of which he had already either discussed or detailed on his website.
Every undocumented immigrant currently in the US will be subject to deportation. There will be no pathway to citizenship or even legal status for them unless they leave the country and get in line with everyone else who wants to enter the US, subject to the normal immigration procedures.
And those entry procedures will be changing. Immigration levels will be reduced. Immigrants will be chosen on "merit, skill, and proficiency". They will be subject to "ideological certification" to ensure they love American values and people.
"We take anybody," Trump said about the current system. "Come on in, anybody. Just come on in. Not anymore."
Anyone without legal papers who is arrested "for any reason" will be put on a fast-track for removal, regardless of whether the arrest is valid or not.
Those who evade deportation from the "special deportation task force" he would create to focus on criminals, gang members, those on public welfare and anyone overstaying their visas (an estimated 500,000 in 2015 alone) will find life in the US most unwelcoming. It was shades of 2012 Republican Mitt Romney's self-deportation proposals - which were harshly criticised by Hispanic activists at the time.
Trump also fleshed out his "extreme vetting" plans for immigrants from regions and countries that could pose a security risk to the US. He named Syria and Libya, in particular, as suspect states. Refugees who don't pass muster will be resettled in "safe zones" near their homes that will be paid for by Persian Gulf states.
Reaction to Trump's speech was sharply divided along the already formed battle lines. Those who had been in his hard-line immigration camp from the get-go - some of whom were confused by his recent hints of softening - were firmly back in the fold.
"I hear Churchill had a nice turn of phrase, but Trump's immigration speech is the most magnificent speech ever given," quipped conservative commentator Ann Coulter.