Donald Trump declined Monday to back down from his vow to deport 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, despite a top advisor’s signal that he might take a more moderate approach.
The Republican presidential nominee said that he would enforce the law more rigorously than other presidents and that his first priority would be criminals, such as Los Angeles gang leaders.
“They’re going to be out of here so fast, your head will spin,” Trump told Fox News. “As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now — perhaps with a lot more energy.”
Trump’s remarks came a day after his new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, suggested he might not honor his pledge during the Republican primaries to use a “deportation force” to expel 11 million immigrants who lack legal papers.
“To be determined,” she told CNN.
It was the latest of many occasions when Trump advisors have suggested he might adjust his rhetoric to widen his appeal, only to be contradicted by a candidate who resists attempts to bend his will.
At a rally Monday night in Akron, Ohio, Trump struggled to stick to a script prepared by campaign staff, repeatedly veering from the words on his teleprompter.
Responding to chants of “Build that wall,” Trump assured the crowd that he would seal the southern border, a plan that is popular among his overwhelmingly white loyalists but offensive to many Latinos and Asians whose votes he needs in Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
“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.”
Reading a passage on trade, the New York businessman added President Obama’s middle name to the prepared remarks, deploring the economic legacy of “Barack Hussein Obama.” It was a reminder of Trump’s suggestions that the Christian president might secretly be a Muslim who sympathizes with terrorists.
Trump, who has long fought critics’ charge that he is racist, urged supporters “to reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton.” The Democratic presidential nominee, he said, “sees people of color only as votes, and not as human beings worthy of a better future.”
He blamed Democrats for “poverty, failing schools and broken homes” in America’s inner cities. “Our government has totally failed our African American friends, our Hispanic friends and the people of our country, period,” he said.
“To the African Americans, who I employ so many of, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people, what the hell do you have to lose?” Trump said. “Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out.”
“It is a disaster the way African Americans are living in many cases, and in many cases the way Hispanics are living, and I say it with such a deep felt feeling: What do you have to lose?”
Trump said that once he cuts crime and creates jobs, “you’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot.”
After the rally, the Clinton campaign released a statement denouncing Trump for “insults, fear and stereotypes that set our community back and further divide our country.” Trump’s remarks were not surprising, it said, for “a man who questions the citizenship of the first African American president, has a disturbing pattern of courting white supremacists and has been sued for housing discrimination against communities of color.”
At a Republican presidential debate in November, Trump praised President Dwight Eisenhower’s deportation program of the 1950s, known as “Operation Wetback.”
“Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border,” Trump said after one of his competitors, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, argued that his vow to expel 11 million immigrants “makes no sense.” “They came back. Moved them again, beyond the border. They came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back.”
Asked the next day how he would round up 11 million people, Trump told MSNBC, “You are going to have a deportation force, and you are going to do it humanely.”
In Akron, Trump was introduced by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who suggested Clinton should be indicted for the way she handled her email as secretary of State.
“Lock her up!” the audience shouted.
“No!” Giuliani hollered back. “Beat her! Beat her! Beat her!”