AUSTIN, Texas — Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that he is open to “softening” laws dealing with immigrants in the country illegally, the latest sign that the Republican presidential nominee is considering easing the hardline stance he has taken since the beginning of his campaign.
Trump, taping a town hall in Austin, Texas, for Fox News, was asked by moderator Sean Hannity if he would change current statutes to accommodate law-abiding citizens or longtime residents who have raised children in the United States.
“There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump answered. “We want people—we have some great people in this country.”
“We are going to follow the laws of this country,” he added.
Trump has repeatedly declared that if elected, he would deport the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. But he has hedged his stance in recent days, and during the taping he ruminated aloud about the fairness of breaking up families. He even polled the audience about what they would do about the crucial policy.
“So you have somebody who’s been in the country for 20 years, has done a great job, and everything else,” Trump said. “Do we take him and the family and her and him or whatever and send him out?”
The crowd’s reaction was split: Some cheered when Trump suggested that the immigrants be allowed to stay, others roared when he suggested deporting them.
The Republican nominee said he “would come out with a decision very soon” about deportations.
But his new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, seemed to make clear in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper where Trump was headed. Asked whether Trump would still talk about a deportation force, she claimed Trump “had not said that for a while.”
“What he’s saying is that we need to find a mechanism that works, that is fair, that is legal and, in his words, humane and doesn’t quote hurt people,” she said, adding she hoped Trump supporters drawn to his hard-line primary position would agree.
“I hope that they are saying what he says, Anderson, which is that you don’t just look at people and try to harm them or treat them inhumanely. I think it’s a very important thing. And frankly, it’s leadership and it’s presidential,” she said.
Trump had been scheduled to outline his immigration policies Thursday in Colorado. But that speech has been postponed, likely until next week.
At a rally in Austin later Tuesday, Trump made no mention of his possible shift on deportations, instead repeating his vow to build a wall to fortify the nation’s southern border with Mexico and to eject immigrants here illegally who have committed criminal and violent acts.
But Trump’s public deliberation about deportations could be the latest signal that as the general campaign heats up, he is moving away from one of his divisive, signature proposals from the Republican primary in order to broaden his base of support. He first suggested on Monday that he was open to allowing some immigrants to stay, suggesting that he wanted a “fair, but firm” policy.
That is a far cry from the early days of the primaries, when Trump vowed to use a “deportation force” to round up and deport the millions of people living in the country illegally. That proposal excited many of his core supporters, but alienated Hispanic voters who could be pivotal in key states.
But his new rhetoric on immigration is part of a full-court press by Trump in recent days to improve his standing among minorities, who polls show overwhelmingly favour his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Trump at several recent rallies has urged African-American voters to support him, pledging that his public safety and economic policies will improve their quality of life while suggesting that Democrats had taken them for granted.
And aides said Tuesday that in the coming weeks Trump was planning trips to urban areas to conduct campaign stops he has largely avoided to this point, including stops at charter schools, small businesses and churches in black and Latino communities.
The Trump campaign’s potential plans to visit inner cities were first reported Tuesday by The Washington Post.