Donald Trump just threw a wrench into the debate about immigration

Donald Trump’s apparent reversal on immigration, the most prominent issue of his campaign, is confusing immigration and anti-immigration activists alike.

Over the past week, Trump’s campaign hinted that it would consider softening the Republican presidential nominee’s immigration stance.

Indeed, during a town hall hosted by Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump suggested that he would “work with” immigrants living in the US without permission, saying that they may be able to pay back taxes as part of a path to legalization.

“Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out,” Trump said. “But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I’ve had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they have said, ‘Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it’s so tough, Mr. Trump.’ I have it all the time! It’s a very, very hard thing.”

Though unlikely to garner any support, Trump’s move came as a surprise to many immigration activists. President Todd Schulte, who runs one of the country’s most prominent immigration advocacy groups, told Business Insider that Trump’s apparent backtrack on his plan to deport 10 million immigrants living in the US without permission acknowledges the position’s toxicity in American politics.

“What we’re seeing very clearly is a candidate stuck in the high 30s, feels that he needs to do something to get white voters in the suburbs and get young voters more importantly, young white voters, and those voters are overwhelmingly in favour of immigration reform, and overwhelmingly opposed to the idea that we’re going to round up 10 million people,” Schulte said in an interview on Wednesday.

Other prominent immigration advocates like Dolores Huerta noted that Trump still wanted to reverse President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which would have allowed millions of immigrants quasi-legal status.

“There’s no Trump ‘pivot.’ He is the same man still pushing policies of mass deportation and portraying immigrants as criminals,” Huerta said in a statement released by People For The American Way. “From day one, Trump has run a bigoted campaign that goes against American values, and that should disqualify him from the presidency. No leader, no matter their party, should be voting for him.”

Some Republicans opposed to Trump’s candidacy remarked how similar Trump’s suggestions sounded to other candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

In an interview with WABC on Wednesday, Bush laughed at suggestions that the real-estate magnate was attempting to co-opt his positions.

“Whatever his views are this morning, they might change this afternoon, and they were different than they were last night, and they will be different tomorrow,” Bush said.

Even many of the far right groups that have backed Trump expressed concern at his potential shift on the issue.

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, an ultra-conservative group that supported Trump’s plan to deport 10 million immigrants living in the US without permission, warned the Republican presidential nominee that there could be backlash if he backs away from his immigration position, which distinguished him from much of the Republican primary field.

“If Donald Trump significantly diverges from his promise to deport all illegals, he will end his own campaign or his own presidency. His campaign or his presidency will be wounded to the point of self-destruction,” William Gheen said in a statement first provided to the Washington Times.

It’s still unclear exactly what Trump’s revised immigration plan may look like.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a top Trump advisor on immigration, told Fox News that the plan is not set in stone, leaving the door open to potential legalization for longtime residents after the US secures its borders.

Further, the Republican presidential nominee, who has refused to apologise for using the term “anchor baby” to refer to children born in the US to non-citizen parents, affirmed in Wednesday’s town hall that he is still opposed to birthright citizenship, the right of all children born in the US to citizenship.

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