PHOENIX — Donald Trump on Wednesday stated clearly there would be “no amnesty” for undocumented immigrants living in the United States , putting to rest questions about whether he was softening his stance on the issue that’s driven much of his campaign.
“For those here illegally today who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only. To return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined today,” the Republican presidential nominee said.
He added: “There will be no amnesty.”
“People will know that you can’t just smuggle in, hunker down and wait to be legalized — it’s not going to work that way. Those days are over,” Trump said.
He did not commit to deporting every undocumented immigrant living in the US as he previously had, but vowed that immigrants living in the US illegally would never have a path to legal status under his presidency.
Trump’s hardline speech on illegal immigration contrasted strikingly with his tone in Mexico hours earlier.
He vowed to deliver “the truth” about illegal immigration as he began to lay out his policy proposals to remedy the the US immigration system, which he argued “is worse than anybody ever realized.”
“If we’re going to make our immigration system work, then we have to be prepared to talk honestly and without fear about these important and very sensitive issues,” Trump said.
He added: “It’s our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us.”
He also pledged his administration would enforce a “zero tolerance” policy toward criminal undocumented immigrants.
“Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone,” Trump said of undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the US.
Trump vowed to create a “deportation task force” within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division “focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal aliens in America.”
“Maybe they’ll be able to deport her,” Trump said, joking the task force could deport his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Just hours after meeting with the Mexican president in Mexico City, Trump reasserted his pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and force Mexico to pay for the wall.
“Mexico will pay for the wall. 100%. They don’t know it yet but they’re going to pay for the wall,” Trump said as his supporters roared.
The wall, Trump said, will be “beautiful” and “impenetrable,” and will include high-tech technologies to prevent illegal border crossings.
Trump also vowed that any undocumented immigrants who are caught crossing into the US will be “detained until they are removed from our country” and sent back to their country of origin.
Trump says the U.S. “will ensure that other countries take their people back when we order them deported.” He is not offering any details.
Trump claims at least 23 countries refuse to take their citizens back after they’ve been ordered to leave.
He says, “Not going to happen with me folks. Not gonna happen.”
Trump is claiming that 13,000 people in the U.S. illegally who were ordered back to their home counties remained in the U.S. between 2008 and 2012, and committed more crimes, including killings, sexual assaults and “some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.”
Trump did not tip his hand Wednesday as he spoke alongside Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto following their meeting earlier Wednesday.
Trump stressed the need to secure the US-Mexico border with a “physical wall,” but did not signal whether he still favors deporting all undocumented immigrants living in the US.
Trump also said that while he discussed the need for a wall with the Mexican head of state, the two did not discuss payment.
“Who pays for the wall? We didn’t discuss,” Trump said in response to a volley of questions. “We did discuss the wall. We didn’t discuss payment of the wall. That’ll be for a later date.”
Mexico’s president disputed that assertion later Wednesday, tweeting that, “At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.”
In Arizona, a state Republican nominees carried in the last four presidential elections, Trump is only maintaining a slight polling lead over Clinton.
Sen. John McCain, who is supporting Trump’s bid but has also publicly warred with Trump, did not attend Trump’s speech Wednesday, which comes a day after McCain won his Senate primary election.
“Senator McCain is spending a much-deserved day off with his wife, Cindy, at their home in Sedona,” a McCain aide told CNN on Wednesday.