WASHINGTON • US presidential candidate Donald Trump was to visit Mexico yesterday for a meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto, just hours before he delivers a speech in Arizona to clarify his views on immigration policy.
Mr Pena Nieto last Friday invited the Republican candidate and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to visit Mexico, his office said in a statement provided to the Washington Post on Tuesday.
Mr Trump said on Twitter that he had accepted the invitation. He was due to hold fundraisers yesterday morning in California and deliver his immigration speech in the evening at the Phoenix Convention Centre. His Mexico trip will be in between these two events.
Mr Pena Nieto's outreach to Mr Trump is likely to strike many Mexicans as odd. Mr Trump has regularly taken an antagonistic attitude towards Mexico in his policies and campaign rallies, saying many immigrants entering the United States illegally from that country are rapists and repeatedly insisting that Mexico will pay for his proposed wall along the southern US border.
There are likely to be protests during Mr Trump's visit, which would involve a private meeting at the presidential palace in Mexico City.
Mr Trump's stance on immigration has plagued his campaign over the past few weeks as he has wavered on key elements of his platform. His campaign has given conflicting signals over whether he will stick to the hard-line positions he took during the Republican primaries, particularly on deportations, and he suggested recently that he was open to "softening" some of his proposals. But his calls to have Mexico pay for the wall have continued.
The scale and scope of potential deportations are of intense interest - and Mr Trump is caught between appeasing his staunchest supporters and trying to appeal to moderate Republicans and independent voters with a softer stance.
The trip, a potentially conciliatory gesture, is the latest gamble for Mr Trump. But for all the risk it poses, it offers an image he relishes: of a wily negotiator willing to do the unexpected - meeting a perceived enemy - to advance his agenda.
It will also be his first official meeting with a head of state as the Republican presidential nominee.
Questions about what would become of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants if Mr Trump is elected have gone largely unanswered by the candidate and his team in recent days. The campaign has suggested his speech in Phoenix will address those questions and concerns.
"I expect the speech to be a refinement of the goals he's always stated," said Mr Kevin Cramer, Republican Representative for North Dakota. He is a Trump supporter.
But it is still unclear how many people would be subject to immediate deportation - all undocumented immigrants, all who have overstayed their visas or just those who have committed serious crimes.
The answers to those questions would define the mandate placed on security agencies such as immigration and Customs enforcement.
A study by the Migration Policy Institute says about 690,000 undocumented immigrants have significant criminal history, such as felony convictions, making them top priorities for deportation under current administration policy.
NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST