After U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told a group of Hispanic leaders over the weekend that he plans to announce a major shift on immigration, he assured voters Monday that he is not flip-flopping on his plans to deport an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
"I'm not flip-flopping," Trump said Monday morning during an interview on Fox & Friends. "We want to come up with a really fair but firm answer."
On Sunday, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN’s Dana Bash that it was "to be determined" whether Trump’s immigration plan would include a "deportation force" as previously promised.
The New York property tycoon's promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and deport all undocumented immigrants was a cornerstone of his primary campaign. But according to three people who attended a meeting between the candidate and Hispanic leaders on Saturday at Trump Tower in New York, Trump will present an immigration plan that will include finding a way to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.
Though the plan was slated to be announced Thursday in Colorado, a campaign official told the AP Monday afternoon that the announcement was being postponed, likely until next week, but did not say why.
A 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%.
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," said Jacob Monty, a Texas immigration lawyer who attended the meeting.
The campaign has so far not provided details of the plan.
Trump critics have reacted with skepticism to his advocacy of a more humane immigration policy. "It’s both a transparent and cynical ploy and one that’s a sign of desperation from a flailing Trump campaign," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights group.
"Since day one of his presidential campaign, Trump has made nativism the centerpiece of his campaign. He has insulted and dehumanized immigrants and Latinos in America and is now hurtling towards a historic low performance among Latino voters this November," Sharry said in a statement. "As a result, any possible tone change on immigration or Latinos would be less about making inroads with Latino voters and more about shoring up his appeal to wavering white voters who are rightfully turned off by a candidate running on a platform of explicit racism and bigotry," he added.
Republican strategist Ana Navarro, who has been vocal in her dislike of Trump, also expressed distrust: "I don't buy [Trump's] August conversion," she wrote on Twitter.
After his closed-door meeting, Trump traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he delivered a speech Saturday night. It was the second time in a week that Trump read from a teleprompter.
Representing a major shift in tone, Trump admitted that he regrets things he's said in recent months. "Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing," he said. "I have done that, and believe it or not I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain."
But Trump had stern words on immigration, in line with his stance throughout the campaign. He promised to "create a system of immigration that makes us all proud" and "temporarily suspend immigration from any place where adequate screening cannot be performed."
"All applicants for immigration will be vetted for ties to radical ideology, and we will screen out anyone who doesn’t share our values and love our people. Anyone who believes Sharia law supplants American law will not be given an immigrant visa. If you want to join our society, then you must embrace our society, our values and our tolerant way of life," Trump said.
Trump also attacked Sanctuary Cities and criminal immigrants, saying: "I’ve spent time with the families of wonderful Americans whose loved ones were killed by the open borders and Sanctuary Cities that Hillary Clinton supports."
At one point, the crowd began cheering: "Build that wall."
"Believe me," Trump responded. "We will build the wall."