Important Notice: This article was written three months ago. After Trump’s victory it has gone viral on social media outlets. However, the content does not reflect the current proposals of the President-elect Trump, especially in regards to the massive deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump plans to present an immigration plan in Colorado Thursday that will include finding a way to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants, according to three people who attended a meeting between the candidate and Hispanic leaders on Saturday at Trump Tower in New York.
"I really liked that Trump acknowledged that there is a big problem with the 11 million [undocumented] people who are here, and that deporting them is neither possible nor humane,” said Jacob Monty, a Texas immigration lawyer who attended the meeting.
If true, Trump's plan would stand in sharp contrast to his previous statements about immigrants during the campaign. During the primaries, the New York property tycoon promised to build a wall along the border with Mexico and to deport all undocumented immigrants.
The possible reversal over immigration policy by the Republican candidate would not be without precedent after Trump has shifted his position on a variety of issues during his campaign, from banning Muslims to taxes, minimum wages and and abortion.
Polls show Trump has alienated many minority voters and Republican party strategists have urged him to tone down his rhetoric about immigrants, especially Hispanics who make up a growing share of registered voters - about 10% in November.
Republican National Committee spokesperson Helen Aguirre was also present at the meeting and confirmed that the candidate is working on unveiling a plan. "Trump was very categorical in saying that he's seeking a fair immigration reform," Aguirre said. "He wants to listen to everyone and announce his conclusions in the coming days."
Trump told the group of conservative Hispanic leaders he would announce a plan to grant legal status "that wouldn't be citizenship but would allow them to be here without fear of deportation," Monty said.
The campaign has so far not provided details of the plan, and Trump spokesman Steven Cheung, said in a statement that Trump's position remains unchanged on immigration.
"Mr. Trump said nothing today that he hasn't said many times before ... enforce our immigration laws, uphold the Constitution and be fair and humane while putting American workers first,” Cheung said.
When he launched his presidential campaign in June last year, Trump linked immigration and crime. "When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people," he said at the time.
According to one of the meeting's attendees, Trump said Saturday that he regretted having made those comments, though it was not clear if he had issued an apology.
In a statement on Saturday responding to Trump's meeting with Hispanics, Hillary Clinton’s campaign political director, Amanda Rentería, recalled the billionaire's prior disparaging comments. "If true, this is a cynical attempt from Donald Trump to distract from his dangerous policies that he doubled down on just this week in a new ad. Donald Trump will be Donald Trump and what's clear is that he's dangerous for the Latino community," she said.
The meeting lasted an hour and a half and among those also present were his two top campaign staff, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who joined Trump this week following a shake-up of his team.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus described three meeting as part of "our expansive effort to engage the Hispanic community."
Present were members of a National Hispanic Advisory Council For Trump, a group that includes state representatives, evangelical pastors and executives such as Javier Polit, chief information officer at the Coca-Cola Company.
According to sources who were present at the meeting, Trump spoke in a conciliatory tone. He began by welcoming everyone, then asked attendees what they thought he should do for the Hispanic community. He took notes during the whole meeting.
The Republican candidate said that his main priority was how to handle the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are now in the country, the sources said.
“Trump is aware that he cannot deport 11 million people,” says Lola Zinke, wife of Ryan Zinke, a Republican congressman from Montana, who is a former Navy Seal.
Zinke, the daughter of a Peruvian, is a San Diego lawyer familiar with illegal immigration issues, who says she believes deportation is not the solution. “It doesn’t make sense to force undocumented [immigrants] to go back to their countries to regularize their situation. Trump himself mentioned a possible solution: let them do it at the embassies or consulates of their countries,” she said.
Other people present at the meeting backed that idea, explaining that the candidate said he did not like the idea of forcing undocumented immigrants to go back to their countries to regularize their immigration status, and that it would make sense to allow them to do so without leaving the United States.
“No one wants criminals or rapists here,” Zinke said. “But it’s impossible to deport 11 million people. Trump realizes the contributions the Hispanic community has made to our military. He understands Hispanic values and the contributions of our community,” she added.
Official details of the Trump plan remain unknown. But those who were present at the meeting said it would include some form of legalizing the status of some undocumented immigrants.
“Being eligible will require that people haven’t committed serious crimes or aren’t recently arrived,” Monty said.
The plan would need the support of Congress, but Monty said he had faith in Trump as “someone who has made deals.”
He added: “Trump is capable of sitting down with his party to negotiate and his opponent isn’t. Congress is controlled by Republicans. How will Hillary Clinton move forward with reform?”
Upon exiting the meeting, evangelical pastor Mario Bramnick said he had spoken with Trump about immigration on three occasions and that he always believed that Trump wanted to come up with a detailed plan to address undocumented immigrants in a humane way.
“He’s always understood the problems of the 11 million people that are here and are good people,” Bramnick said. “The first thing is to establish the safety of this country and make it clear that criminals cannot stay. But there are good people and we have to propose reform to discuss what to do with these people,” he said.
Several Hispanic leaders told Trump that Hispanics weren't happy about his more aggressive comments. "He told us that what he'd said was one thing and what he'd meant to say was another," said Jovita Carranza, a Hispanic businesswoman and deputy administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush.
"What he meant to say is that there's a lot of crime involved in these difficult situations that Hispanics go through on the border,” said Carranza, who attended Saturday’s meeting in New York.
“They pay money to cross [the border] and along the way women are raped and they let others die in trucks. Trump said he was referring to that type of crime and to people who are criminals who shouldn't be part of our society," she added.
Carranza said Trump knows the Hispanic community because many of his employees are of Mexican origin, and that he values their contribution to the economy and how much they care about education.
María Ramírez and David Adams contributed to this article.