Over the weekend, BuzzFeed reported that “in a reversal, Trump indicate[d] to Hispanic leaders [an] openness to legalization for [illegal] immigrants.” Trump allegedly did this during a Saturday meeting with his “Hispanic advisory council,” a body he recently threw together.
The Trump campaign promptly disputed BuzzFeed’s account. A campaign spokesman said:
Mr. Trump said nothing today that he hasn’t said many times before, including in his convention speech—enforce the laws, uphold the Constitution, be fair and humane while putting American workers first. Today’s conversation was productive and enlightening, and Mr. Trump looks forward to speaking with these leaders again soon and often.
In addition, an RNC spokesman told Breitbart:
Some folks talked about legalization, not citizenship, for the undocumented. Mr. Trump did not say he was in favor of legalization. Some folks may have felt that he was open to it [but] he gave zero indication of that.
Without a video or transcript of the meeting, it’s impossible to know what Trump actually said to the assembled Hispanics. One suspects that Trump used platitudes of the kind his spokesperson described and that members of his audience heard what they wanted to hear — namely, for some, that he’s open to legalization.
On the other hand, Trump isn’t known for the precision of his language. Maybe he went further than just platitudes about being “fair and humane.” Maybe, the RNC spokesman’s statement notwithstanding, he did provide some indication of being open to legalization.
If/when Trump issues a formal position paper on illegal immigration, we may know where he stands on the issue of what to do about the 11 million (or so) who are in the U.S. illegally. But even then, we’ll only know where he stands for purposes of this election campaign.
One thing seems reasonably clear, though. Trump isn’t planning to deport 11 million illegal immigrants (or whatever the number is). It’s not just that doing so would be inconsistent with any notion of fair and humane treatment. The idea is beyond impractical. I never believed Trump would attempt to carry it out.
Moreover, Trump’s new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on Sunday that it is “to be determined” whether Trump would deport illegal immigrants. The campaign appears to be standing down on the issue.
Trump isn’t standing down, as far as we can tell, on no legalization and certainly not on building the wall. I suspect, though, that legalization is “to be determined” — along with almost everything else in a Trump administration.
Can Trump pick up some Hispanic support by standing down on mass deportation and being open to a path to citizenship (if that’s what he’s saying)? Probably. Distaste for Hillary Clinton will cause some center-right Hispanics to take another look at Trump.
Will Trump lose support within his base for taking a kinder, gentler approach? I doubt it. For these folks, it’s all about the man. Anyway, wherever Trump ends up on illegal immigration, it’s bound to be to the right of Hillary Clinton.
Thus, the Trump campaign is smart to soften the message on immigration. However, Trump can only improve his position with Hispanic voters marginally. He is still destined to lose huge among Hispanics.