SEATTLE — After an unexpected visit to Mexico on Wednesday, Donald Trump is set to deliver a much-anticipated speech on immigration in Arizona. He’ll do so under pressure to clarify where he stands on the finer points of an issue that’s defined his campaign for president.
During his successful run to the GOP nomination, Trump said that as president he would kick out the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally with the help of a “deportation force.”
But after clinching the nomination, Trump began suggesting in closed-door conversations with Hispanic supporters that he might be open to changing his approach. After one such roundtable this month, his new campaign manager said Trump’s stance on the deportations was “to be determined.”
In the days since, Trump and his staff have broadcast varied and conflicting messages, with Trump himself saying one day he might be open to “softening” his stance, and days later saying he might, in fact, be “hardening.”
Trump’s campaign announced Tuesday that he will make a surprise trip to Mexico on Wednesday to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto before his scheduled speech.
Here are some of the questions that activists, supporters and voters will be watching for Trump to answer in his speech:
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE ESTIMATED 11 MILLION PEOPLE HERE ILLEGALLY?
It’s this question on which Trump faces the most pressure to take a definitive stance. “We want to see policy as opposed to rhetoric,” said Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group started by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and others that’s been pushing for comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
Broadly, there are two options for Trump.
During the primary season, and until recently in the general election, Trump was insistent that all people must leave. Only then could they be assessed for a possible return.
The second option would be to allow such immigrants to stay. The mechanism could be as simple as only pursuing for deportation those who have committed crimes beyond their immigration status, or creating a pathway for immigrants here illegally to legally remain in the country.
IF THEY MUST LEAVE, HOW WILL THEY GO?
In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney infamously suggested he would make it so hard for people living in the country illegally to get and keep a job that they would “self-deport.”
In this year’s GOP primaries, Trump took a harder stance, painting a picture of security forces that would go door to door and hunt down such immigrants. He said the process would take between 18 months and two years, and cited a 1950s era effort known as “Operation Wetback” as a model for what he hoped to achieve.
Various analysts have pegged the cost of such an effort at hundreds of billions of dollars, not counting the added costs of removing millions of people from the work force.
HOW DO THEY COME BACK?
In an interview last week with CNN, Trump said he would not support a path to legal status for such immigrants unless they “leave the country and come back.”
But the billionaire hasn’t offered many specifics on what should happen to determine how those forced to leave the country could earn the right to return.
Under current U.S. law, immigrants who are in the country illegally and who leave or are deported are subject to either a three- or 10-year ban on returning, depending on how long they were in the country without permission. It is also possible to obtain a waiver from that requirement.
MIGHT THEY BE ABLE TO STAY?
Should Trump support allowing people in the country illegally to remain, he’ll enter a debate President Barack Obama and lawmakers in Congress have been unable to resolve.
Such plans almost always come with preconditions an immigrant must meet to earn legal status or, in plans supported by more liberal lawmakers, citizenship.
Would people in the country illegally need to register? Learn English? Pay back taxes?
If not citizenship, what would their legal status entail? Would they be granted work visas with expiration dates? Or be entitled to apply for a green card, but with no hope of ever becoming a citizen?
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN BORN TO PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY ILLEGALLY?
Trump said during the GOP primaries that he believes children born to those in the country illegally are not U.S. citizens, a position that stands in stark contrast to the widely accepted interpretation of the 14th Amendment.
It’s not clear whether as president Trump would seek to challenge the status of such children, whom he has called “anchor babies” — a term derided by immigration advocates.
Asked about the issue on Sunday, Trump running mate Mike Pence said he thinks “the whole question of anchor babies, as it’s known, the whole question of citizenship, of natural-born Americans is a subject for the future.”
Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.