White House hopeful Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday that once elected, anyone residing in the United States illegally will face deportation, sticking with his hardline position after flirting with a softer approach.
In a major speech in the border state of Arizona, Trump took a dim view of the 11 million people who crossed into the United States illegally, a week after saying many were "great people" who had lived in the country for years and contributed to American society.
Immigration is Trump's signature issue as he battles Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of the November 8 election. He laid out a tough, 10-point plan to end illegal border crossings and abusive behaviour by undocumented people in the country.
"We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration," Trump declared to a rowdy crowd in Phoenix.
He said all people in the United States illegally would have "only one route" to gain legal status if Trump were to win the presidential election: "To return home and apply for re-entry."
"Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country," Trump said.
"People will know you can't just smuggle in, hunker down and wait to be legalised," he said. "Those days are over."
Trump also demanded an end to "catch-and-release" programs along the country's southern border, while calling for stricter enforcement of existing immigration law and "zero tolerance for criminal aliens."
He also promised to triple the number of immigration officers responsible for deportation. "I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice," he said.
Trump again vowed that Mexico would pay for construction of a "great border wall" between the two countries. He spoke hours after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto told Trump in a face-to-face meeting in Mexico City that Mexico would not pay for it.pen
"We will build a great wall along the southern border," Trump said. "And Mexico will pay for the wall — 100 percent. They don't know it yet, but they're going to pay for the wall."
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2016
Trump said at a joint news conference with Pena that he and the Mexican leader did not discuss who would pay for the wall. Pena remained silent on the issue at the event, but said later on Twitter he did raise the issue.
"At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall," Pena said in a tweet.
Trump used the Phoenix speech to clarify his stance on illegal immigration after prevaricating on the issue recently. When asked if there could be room for illegal migrants who live in the US for decades and had no criminal record, Trump had said “yes” during a TV show last week.
His words started a debate whether it's a flip-flop or softening his stance. But his immigration position was one of the core policies distinguishing Trump from the other Republican nominees.
He returned to the hardline rhetoric that powered him to the Republican presidential nomination over 16 rivals, heartening those conservatives drawn to Trump by the issue.
In his speech, Trump emphasised that his priority would be to quickly deport those among the undocumented population who have committed serious crimes.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2016
He said he would form a commission to study which regions or countries he would suspend immigration from, saying Syria and Libya would be high on his list.
This would be his way of carrying out his proposed ban on Muslims from some countries without getting into their religious affiliation.
Trump is trailing Clinton in opinion polls and the New York businessman's aides hoped the trip would make him look presidential and show he was willing to deal head-on with thorny issues such as relations with Mexico.
Pena said at the joint news conference with Trump in Mexico City that the many millions of Mexicans in the United States deserved respect.
The Mexican president later sought to defend himself against a broad swathe of criticism for his decision to invite the Republican candidate despite his repeated verbal attacks on Mexico.
He rebuked Trump as a threat to his country just hours after painting a positive picture of talks the two held.
"His policy stances could represent a huge threat to Mexico, and I am not prepared to keep my arms crossed and do nothing," Pena said. "That risk, that threat, must be confronted. I told him that is not the way to build a mutually beneficial relationship for both nations."
Trump has been pilloried in Mexico since he launched his White House campaign last year.
A few dozen demonstrators gathered beneath a monument to Mexican independence in the center of the capital to protest against the visit, some holding placards emblazoned with captions such as: "You are not Wall-come" and "Trump and Pena out."
Clinton, a former secretary of state, said on Wednesday Trump could not paper over his previous harsh language against Mexico.
Trump just failed his first foreign test. Diplomacy isn't as easy as it looks. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 1, 2016
"It certainly takes more than trying to make up for more than a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours and then flying home again," she told a convention of the American Legion military veterans' group in Cincinnati.