Son says Donald Trump not 'softening' before immigration speech

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, US on July 21, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, US on July 21, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Is billionaire Donald Trump softening his hardline immigration stance to a "fair and humane" policy ahead of November's presidential election? Or is he still intent on deporting millions who entered the United States illegally?

The picture has been fuzzy for weeks, with the Republican flagbearer appearing to shift his positioning. But it could become clearer in Arizona on Wednesday (Aug 31), when Mr Trump unveils immigration policy prescriptions and perhaps clears up the confusion surrounding one of the pivotal issues of his White House campaign.

Mr Trump's son offered a hint on Tuesday (Aug 30) at the message that the brash billionaire will deliver in Phoenix. "He wasn't softening on anything," Mr Donald Trump Jr told CNN when asked about how his father recently appeared to survey a Texas campaign crowd over what he should do about the nation's roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Challenged on whether the Republican nominee still wanted to deport them, Mr Trump Jr said that was "correct", but suggested a more moderate tone on the controversial issue.

"You have to start with baby steps," he added. "You have to eliminate sanctuary cities. You have to get rid of the criminals certainly, first and foremost. And you have to secure the border."

Mr Trump's signature campaign promise has been to build a wall on the US border with Mexico, and he repeated that pledge in a Tuesday tweet.

"From day one I said that I was going to build a great wall on the SOUTHERN BORDER, and much more. Stop illegal immigration. Watch Wednesday!" he posted on Twitter.

But recently, Mr Trump has distanced himself from previous vows to mount a "deportation force" to remove millions.

The Republican presidential candidate's hardline stance on repatriating undocumented immigrants in the United States has been a central tenet of Mr Trump's White House campaign - and a hugely popular selling point to his most ardent supporters.

It now looms as an obstacle, however, as he seeks to expand his base in the general election contest with Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has accused Mr Trump of fuelling xenophobia and racism.

Mr Trump's new campaign director Kellyanne Conway said there has been little real change in the central tenets of Mr Trump's immigration platform, including "no amnesty" for those in the country illegally.

But she stressed Mr Trump was committed to a "fair and humane" approach to securing America's borders.

One year ago, he issued an immigration reform plan calling for an end to automatic citizenship for those born in the United States, a right which some say is abused by undocumented migrants seeking American birthright for their children.

This past week, however, the Republican presidential candidate - once uncompromising in his vow to use a deportation force to repatriate illegal migrants - seemed less resolute, even suggesting he could work with law-abiding immigrants who paid taxes.

"There certainly can be a 'softening,' because we're not looking to hurt people," Mr Trump told a Fox News town hall last week.

Trump in recent days has signaled he will focus first on removing those undocumented immigrants with criminal records. He touched on his plan in a weekend speech.

"These international gangs of thugs and drug cartels will be - I promise you, from the first day in office... we're going to get rid of these people," Mr Trump said on Saturday in Iowa.