Immigration advocates go on offensive on eve of Trump speech

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a New York City campaign event in June. Trump has been a frequent visitor to Arizona, where he promised to make a major announcement Wednesday on his immigration policy. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

WASHINGTON – A day before Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s scheduled “major immigration speech” in Phoenix, immigration advocates on Tuesday were already denouncing any new policy as a likely repackaging of the same “inhumane” policies.

Trump’s promise of a Mexican-funded border wall and the deportation of all immigrants here illegally have been signatures of his campaign, but he has indicated in recent appearances that he might be softening that approach.

During a recent town hall on Fox News, however, Trump said he still aims to “follow the laws of this country” but that he could soften his previous policies because “we’re not looking to hurt people.” And he said Tuesday night that he will be meeting Wednesday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Trump is scheduled to appear Wednesday night at the Phoenix Convention Center where he has tweeted out to his followers that he will make a major speech on immigration. While few details were available, Democrats on Tuesday were already criticizing any possible policy shift.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said in a conference call with immigration advocates Tuesday that he saw little hope for improvement in Trump’s “simplistic” approach, which Gallego called little more than a “trope appeasing the xenophobic base in the Republican Party.”

Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said those who understand immigration policy sometimes laugh trying to make sense of Trump’s border proposals.

Johnson said the laws that Trump said he wants to follow “are the current source of our problem, so we can’t look to them as our solution,” adding that they are “out of touch with reality.”

He challenged Trump’s claim that current undocumented immigrants would be able to leave and then re-enter legally, saying the few who might qualify for visas would have to wait decades until they can get back into the country.

Alejandra Gomez, the executive director of LUCHA, or Living United for Change in Arizona, pointed to Trump’s calls on his campaign website for mass deportations that would return “all criminal aliens … to their home countries.” That would mean the deportation of thousands of families and people who are the fabric of Arizona, families like hers and thousands of others across the country.

“It’s just irrational conversation based on fear that our community is not going to allow,” Gomez said of the immigration policies.

More than 60 percent of the undocumented population has been in this country for at least a decade, Johnson said. A group with such deep roots in the U.S. would mean Trump’s plan to weed out “bad” immigrants is destined to fail, Johnson said, because it ignores the fact that this is their home.

Even if deportations were possible, they would not be permanent, Gallego said.

“You start deporting these parents and they’ll find a way to get to their kids,” he said.

Trump did not appear to be backing off all of his proposals, tweeting Tuesday that “from day one I said I was going to build a great wall on the southern border, and much more,” before inviting people to watch his Wednesday speech.

And Trump supporters have not backed off of what they see as a need for tougher border policies.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, said in a prepared statement from his office Tuesday that “border security and national security are inextricably linked.”

“A porous border is an open invitation to those who wish to harm America, and for too long our borders have been an inviting access point for drug smugglers, human traffickers and potential terrorists,” Franks’ statement said. “Our borders must be secured and every illegal immigrant in the United States must be accounted for.”