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On Immigration, Trump Appears To Shift Focus To Getting 'Rid Of The Bad Ones'

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, Monday.
Gerald Herbert
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, Monday.

Would a President Donald Trump attempt to forcefully remove an estimated 11 million people from the United States?

Three days after Trump's campaign first hinted it was reconsidering walking back from a core campaign promise, the answer still isn't clear.

Trump had long promised to identify and remove the estimated 11 million immigrants already living in the United States illegally. He has called for a "deportation force" to do this, and notably praised a controversial Eisenhower administration-era program called "Operation Wetback," which deported up to 1.5 million people from the United States.

But on Fox News Monday night, Trump appeared to walk back his praise for that initiative. "I don't agree with that. I'm not talking about detention centers," Trump said. "We are going to get rid of the bad ones. The bad ones will be out of here fast."

Trump wouldn't say directly whether he was rethinking his mass deportation strategy, saying, "I just want to follow the law."

"The first thing we're going to do is going to, if and when I win, is we're going to get rid of all of the bad ones — we got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country. We're going to get them out."

Trump compared his approach to deportations authorized by Presidents Obama and Bush. "As far as everybody else, we're going to go through the process. What people don't know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush, the same thing," Trump continued. "Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I'm going to do the same thing."

Focusing efforts on immigrants in the country illegally who have committed violent crimes, rather than an en-masse deportation effort, would be a policy much more in line with what Hillary Clinton is proposing than what Trump had previously touted.

Many experts have long questioned the logistical reality — if not humanitarian wisdom — of a large-scale effort to track down and deport every person already living in the country illegally.

Trump's interview with Fox host Bill O'Reilly comes during a period where his campaign has hinted at a shift in immigration policy, only to deny that any changes are taking place. Trump had been expected to roll out a new proposal later this week in Colorado, though that event has since been canceled.

Instead, Trump will tape a town hall event — also on Fox News — Tuesday night in Texas. The forum, moderated by Sean Hannity, is expected to focus on immigration.

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Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.