US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump held out the possibility of a softening of his hardline position on illegal immigration, a move that could help move him to the political centre but hurt him with his most ardent supporters.
In an immigration town hall event with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, Mr Trump was asked whether he would be willing to change US law to accommodate those illegal immigrants who have been contributing to American society, obeyed laws, and have children.
“There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Mr Trump replied, insisting there were some “great people” among the immigrant population.
It was the latest example of Mr Trump appearing to waver on a long-held stance he would deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries.
His new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told CNN that Mr Trump’s proposed “deportation force” for the 11m people in the US illegally was “to be determined”.
Later, at a rally in Austin, Mr Trump appeared to shift his emphasis to dealing with illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the US. He also brought on stage eight mothers whose children had been killed by illegal immigrants.
Mr Trump ticked off a series of statistics about crimes committed by some illegal immigrants and vowed that would be stopped under his presidency.
“Not going to happen, folks,” he said. “We’re not going to let it happen to our country.”
Mr Trump said he would stop some major cities’ practice of providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants and stop immigrants from overstaying their visas.
A move to modify his stance on immigration could help Mr Trump attract more support among moderate voters in his uphill drive to win the November 8 election.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Democrat Hillary Clinton expanding her lead over Trump to 12 points among likely voters, with 45%support to 33% for Mr Trump.
A change in Mr Trump’s position could prove to be dispiriting to some of his strongest supporters. Mr Trump defeated 16 rivals for the Republican presidential nomination and one factor that helped him was being the most hardline candidate on immigration.
“Why would anyone be surprised that Trump has pivoted to becoming the ‘amnesty’ candidate?” said Republican strategist Rick Tyler, a former spokesman for US senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
“When you have no governing philosophy, pivots are par for the course. Guess we won’t need Mexico to build that wall.”
At the Austin event, attended by thousands who packed a rodeo arena, some were shouting “build the wall” long before Mr Trump even showed up, a reference to the New York businessman’s oft-stated promise to build a wall along the US with Mexico.
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