The heavily hyped speech was intended to clarify Donald Trump’s position on immigration and perhaps give the candidate an escape hatch to back away from some of his most extreme promises–to build a border wall and to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants–before the general election.
Instead, Trump came out swinging Wednesday night in Arizona as the same impassioned, rally-ready, big, beautiful wall candidate the country came to know during the Republican primary
“You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country,” Trump said, emphatically.
Trump set the tone in the first minutes of his speech, graphically describing the murders of several Americans who were killed by undocumented immigrants. He recalled the death of Sarah Root, a 21-year-old college student who was killed by a drunk driver. He talked about a store clerk who was killed by an undocumented immigrant and recounted “the case of 90-year-old year old Earl Olander who was brutally beaten and left to bleed to death.” The detailed list went on.
“Hillary Clinton,” he claimed, “talks constantly about her fears that families will be separated. But she’s not talking about the American families who have been permanently separated from their loved ones because of a preventable homicide.”
If elected, Trump promised that gangs would disappear, illegal immigration would decrease and safety would be secured for all.
“We will terminate the Obama administration’s deadly — and it is deadly–non-enforcement policies that allow thousands of criminal aliens to freely walk our streets, do whatever they want to do, crime all over the place. That’s over. That’s over, folks. That’s over,” Trump said.
The speech was strikingly similar to many he has given across the country over the last year and a half. After weeks of speculation and hints from his team about Trump’s immigration plan, the candidate landed exactly where he had been all along–on the extreme fringe of the Republican Party.
The speech culminated a bizarre day that included Trump’s impromptu trip to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, which provided Trump with a photo op on the international stage, but quickly devolved afterwards when the Mexican president accused Trump of not being entirely clear about what transpired in their meeting. While Trump told reporters Wednesday that the issue of payment for the border wall (which he insisted again on Wednesday night would be paid for by Mexico) never came up, Peña Nieto publicly insisted later that he had informed Trump his country wouldn’t be financing the barrier.
Donald Trump with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto at the end of presser.
Earlier in the day, Trump hinted that his immigration plan might at the very least be the same plan cloaked in a new vocabulary. Standing at a lectern next to Peña Nieto in Mexico, Trump had been careful to embrace the Mexican people as “amazing” – a swift reversal for a candidate who had spent the campaign berating Mexico and broadly painting undocumented immigrants as violent criminals.
By Wednesday evening, however, back across the border in Phoenix there was not even a touch of softening on the edges. Trump promised – as he has many times before– to require “extreme vetting” for refugees coming into the country and flat out declared he would block refugees from coming from areas like Syria and Libya.
“We are going to stop the tens of thousands of people coming in from Syria. We have no idea who they are, where they come from, there’s no documentation, there’s no paperwork,” Trump said. “It’s going to end badly, folks.”
Trump pledged to add 5,000 new border patrol agents to the southern border, to finish a biometric entry and exit system, strengthen the country’s E-verify system and select immigrants of the future based off of their ability to be “financially self sufficient.”
“We need a system that serves our needs, not the needs of others,” Trump said. “Chose immigrants based on merit … skill and proficiency.”
With fewer than 10 weeks until election day, Trump’s speech didn’t even attempt to revise his immigration plan from the primary. Trump has already alienated a large share of Latino voters with his pandering and insults. A Fox News Latino poll showed Clinton with a 46-point lead over Trump among Hispanic voters earlier this month.
Trump’s attacks on a federal judge’s “Mexican” heritage had been widely rebuked among even those within his own party.
Trump’s early and uncompromising position on immigration – his insistence that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “criminals” who are displacing American workers– won him the endorsement of fellow hardliners like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) during the primary.
There was some speculation that if Trump changed his views on immigration he could alienate that base that made him the force he is now. In many respects, Trump’s restrictive immigration policies had become the underlying rationale for his entire campaign.
The truth is if voters had turned on the TV Wednesday night they would have seen a speech Trump has given in fits and starts many times before. There was no attempt to win over anyone he hadn’t before. Trump is forging ahead once and for all as the candidate he told us he was a year ago.