Donald Trump has vowed anew to deport millions of undocumented people and to build a wall on the border with Mexico, defying expectations that he would soften his stance on immigration.
The Republican presidential candidate doubled down on his hardline stance in a speech on Wednesday night which delighted core supporters and dismayed his few remaining Latino allies who had expected a tack towards moderation.
Speaking hours after a lightning visit to Mexico, Trump told a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, he was sticking with his plan for a “deportation force” to intercept illegal border crossers and hunt down criminal “illegal aliens” already in the US.
“We are going to take our country back,” he said, repeating a mantra from the primary campaign.
Speaking largely from a teleprompter, he also reiterated his vow to make Mexico pay for a 2,000-mile wall which, he said, would bristle with sensors, towers and guards. “We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall, 100%. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it.”
Trailing Hillary Clinton in the polls with just 69 days to the election, Trump and campaign aides had recently fuelled expectations of a “softening” of immigration policy, prompting speculation about a flip-flop.
Instead the speech, which his campaign billed as a major policy address, represented an abrupt reversion to an aggressive tone just hours after an unfamiliar conciliatory timbre in Mexico City, where Trump met President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The GOP nominee roused the crowd in Phoenix with grisly details about murders committed by undocumented immigrants. He brought on stage “angel moms” whose children were killed.
He spoke of cancelling an Obama administration programme that gives work permits to about 800,000 young immigrants who came to the US as children – a stance likely to slam shut any chance of Latino outreach.
Anybody who entered the US illegally would be subject to deportation and there should be detainers for immigrants who committed any crime, not just felonies, he said. “There will be no amnesty.”
Trump also promised ideological tests for would-be visa applicants, a “sunset” on visa laws requiring Congress to rewrite them every few years and a ban on taxpayer funding for cities that don’t deport undocumented immigrants.
The rhetoric trampled over the hopes of Trump’s dwindling band of conservative Latino supporters. “This is how I feel: disappointed and misled,” tweeted Alfonso Aguilar, head of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Jacob Monty, a member of Trump’s National Hispanic advisory council, resigned, Politico reported.