In a provocative 75-minute speech Wednesday evening in Phoenix—one that quickly drew praise from David Duke and other prominent white nationalists—Donald Trump put to rest any notion that he is “softening” his stance on immigration. The GOP nominee reiterated many of his most extreme proposals, outlining a 10-step policy that included building his much-discussed wall (which Mexico will pay for, he still insists), immediately deporting “criminal aliens,” and adding an “ideological certification” to ensure that US visa applicants—at least from certain countries—share American values.
Per his usual, Trump painted America as a country under siege by criminal aliens and pledged (implausibly) that from his very first hours in the Oval Office, he would commence with the promised deportations. “Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone!” he said, virtually roaring into the microphone. “You can call it deported if you want, you can call it whatever you want, they’re gone.”
Reactions were swift, with Jared Tayor, a prominent white nationalist, calling the speech “almost perfect” on Twitter, and Duke, a former “imperial wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan (and candidate for the Senate in Louisiana), live-tweeting the speech and offering praise. Hillary Clinton and her supporters took to Twitter to slam Trump’s proposals.
Excellent speech by Donald Trump tonight. Deport criminal aliens, end catch and release, enforce immigration laws & America First.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) September 1, 2016
#TrumpAZ Hell of a speech. Almost perfect. Logical, deeply felt, and powerfully delivered. Now watch how the media twists it.
— Jared Taylor (@jartaylor) September 1, 2016
#TrumpAZ Donald Trump has tied our foolish immigration policies to every problem we have. This is a epochal, historic, unprecedented.
— Jared Taylor (@jartaylor) September 1, 2016
We are not going to criminalize, profile, round up, and deport 16 million people. pic.twitter.com/oCAAusi5dx
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 1, 2016
In his address, Trump portrayed American citizens as under attack by illegal immigrants who have sexually assaulted, beaten, or murdered innocent citizens. He cited a list of specific examples, in one case describing an Air Force veteran Trump said was “beaten to death by a hammer.” Speaking more generally about “criminal illegal immigrants,” Trump said, “Their days have run out in this country. The crime will stop. They’re going to be gone. It will be over. They’re going out. They’re going out fast.”
The Republican nominee repeated his call for an “extreme vetting” of legal immigrants, and a suspension of new visas for citizens from countries where “adequate screening of visas cannot occur.” He promised he would “cancel” President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action that offered temporary protection from deportation for at least 5 million people, including undocumented parents of children who are American citizens—an order that is currently tied up in court.
Trump also detailed for the first time that his proposed ideological test would include questions about honor killings and attitudes toward women, LGBT rights, and radical Islam. Deportations would be swift. The tone of the speech was classic Trump: “No. 3. No. 3, this is the one, I think it’s so great. It’s hard to believe, people don’t even talk about it. Zero tolerance for criminal aliens. Zero. Zero. Zero. They don’t come in here. They don’t come in here.”
While Trump—on the heels of a controversial visit with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto—touched briefly on his infamous border wall (including sensors above and below the soil), he focused more on the need to “take back” America from the “crisis” of illegal immigration: “This is our last chance to secure the border, stop illegal immigration and reform our laws to make your life better.”
Trump’s immigration language has been picked apart in recent weeks, following talk that he was perhaps softening his positions. He launched his campaign, of course by calling for a “great” border wall, and promised to create a deportation force for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. His hardline stances and peddling of scary scenarios—both criminal and economic—fueled his rise in the polls. Earlier this month, however, Trump reportedly told Hispanic leaders he was interested in courting a “humane and efficient” way to deal with undocumented immigrants. Since then, he and his campaign have been sending mixed signals on Trump’s immigration plans.
In tonight’s speech, Trump took his most controversial stances and, if anything, pushed them further. While acknowledging that there are “some good illegal immigrants” living in America, he also claimed the Obama administration has implemented policies that prioritize the interests of undocumented immigrants over those of Americans. The former, he claimed, are treated “even better than our vets.” Obama and Clinton, he added, “support catch and release on the border. They support visa overstays. They support the release of dangerous, dangerous, dangerous criminals from detention.”
“Hillary Clinton, for instance, 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, because of a preventable death, because of murder.”
“For those who are here illegally today waiting for legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for reentry like everybody else under the new system,” Trump continued. “We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration.”
The nominee’s rhetoric may contradict some of his own business practices. In a Mother Jones investigation of Trump’s modeling agency, Trump Model Management, several former models told reporter James West that they had worked illegally in the United States on the company’s watch. (Mike Pence, Trump’s vice presidential pick, dismissed the women’s allegations as a “sidebar issue.”)
Near the end of the speech, Trump briefly brought on stage 10 “angel mothers” who spoke of their children allegedly killed by undocumented immigrants. The women expressed their support for Trump. “This is a movement,” he proclaimed solemnly. “We’re going to take our country back.”