Belligerent Trump shows he is not for turning on immigration

Republican nominee thinks he can win US presidential election with only white voters

Donald Trump greets members of the American Legion after speaking at its convention in Cincinnati on Thursday. He said if elected he would be “uncompromising” in defence of the US. Photograph: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Donald Trump's immigration speech in Arizona on Wednesday night, capping one of the most extraordinary days of his topsy-turvy presidential candidacy, confirmed two things: the Republican is not for turning, and he believes he can win this election with only white voters.

After weeks of oscillating on whether he would soften his hardline immigration stance, the signature policy of his campaign, the Republican nominee returned to the tough-talking rhetoric and radical proposals that have characterised his 14-month run for the US presidency.

The policy speech, delivered in Trump’s favoured rabble-rousing style at a large rally in Phoenix, was closely watched to see whether the billionaire property mogul would drop his plans to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the US and moderate his proposals to offer them a path to legal status, as he had been hinting over the past week.

Hours after striking a subdued and even friendly chord at a press conference with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto after their meeting in Mexico City, Trump dispensed with the softly-softly approach and reverted to the belligerent tone that has defined his candidacy.


Outlining a 10-point immigration plan, Trump talked largely to his core voters. "Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation – this is what it means to have laws," he said.

Occasionally shouting to stress his points, he promised that there would be “no amnesty” for illegal immigration and that he would round up “the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants” by creating a “special deportation task force”.

Left unanswered was the question on whether these new immigration officers would forcibly deport the 11 million undocumented (including an unknown number of Irish) as Trump has previously said during his campaign, dismissing this as unimportant.

“The central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants,” he said, adding that only “out of touch media elites” think illegal immigrants without legal status is the nation’s biggest problem.

Trump left no doubts around what “undocumented” immigrants in the US must do.

“For those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for re-entry,” he said.

Under Trump’s proposed new rules, applicants must prove their “merit, skill and proficiency”. Immigration agents in his administration will select successful applicants “based on their likelihood of success in US society and their ability to be financially self-sufficient.”

There will also be “an ideological certification” to make sure new immigrants “share our values and love our people”.

Anyone’s guess

Quite how any of this will work in practice is anyone’s guess. Still, Trump’s core supporters loved his fiery speech. The Arizona crowd cheered his get-tough proposals. So too did anti-amnesty conservatives.

"I hear Churchill had a nice turn of phrase, but Trump's immigration speech is the most magnificent speech ever given," tweeted right-wing TV pundit Ann Coulter on Wednesday night.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a US senate candidate in Louisiana, joined other white supremacists in praising the Republican nominee's speech on social media.

"Excellent speech by Donald Trump tonight. Deport criminal aliens, end catch and release, enforce immigration laws and America First," Duke tweeted, citing one of Trump's slogans. The Republican's running mate, Mike Pence, later disavowed Mr Duke's support.

Meanwhile, Trump’s Latino supporters and other Hispanic Republicans ran for the exits.

Houston lawyer Jacob Monty resigned from the candidate's "national hispanic advisory council" after hearing the speech, describing Trump's solution to illegal immigration as "not realistic and not compassionate". Another member, Texas pastor Ramiro Pena, said he would have to reconsider being part of "a scam".

“I am so sorry, but I believe Mr Trump lost the election tonight,” Pena said.

Trump appeared to suggest that he might moderate his policies once he deports criminal illegal immigrants. On Thursday he told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that there would be "really quite a bit of softening."

Billy Lawless, a Chicago- based Irish senator representing the Irish in the US, said Trump's policies were impractical and would not win the support of moderate congressional Republicans.

"How can you deport 11 million people? It cannot be done," said Lawless, who is also an activist with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

As Trump made clear in his speech, he believes he can win the White House with the same group that won him the Republican nomination: mostly male, mostly white, mostly less educated voters.

In a threat to the long-term viability of the Republican Party, Trump has definitively broken with its post-2012 strategy of winning over minorities in order to make up the shortfall left by the declining number of white voters, who Republicans have relied on in presidential elections.

“Last night was the last straw for Hispanic voters. What Trump has done is absolutely written off minority voters,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a politics professor at Florida International University.

“He has said, I am going to win with white voters and the only way to do this is to go nationalistic and make sure there is a big white voter turnout.”