“We need to believe him [Donald Trump] when he bullies and threatens to throw out every immigrant in the country.”
– Hillary Clinton, interview on CNN with Anderson Cooper, Aug. 24, 2016
A reader called this quote to our attention, saying that it was clearly wrong. Donald Trump has certainly called for deporting an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States – though he may be wavering on that position. But he has not called for removing every immigrant in the United States.
This was a live interview, and the Clinton campaign says the former secretary of state misspoke. She apparently meant to say “every undocumented immigrant.”
Now, regular readers know that we don’t like to play gotcha here at The Fact Checker, so ordinarily that might be the end of it. But take a look at this tweet issued under Clinton’s name on Aug. 25. The tweet says that “in 2015, Trump launched his own campaign for president by describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.” The accompanying video, which starts by saying “Donald Trump built his candidacy on demonizing immigrants,” has various clips of tough talk from Trump, mainly about illegal immigrants. Then the video ends with this warning: “Trump has made his plans for immigrants and their families clear.”
This made us wonder whether Clinton’s supposed slip of the tongue actually was part of an effort by her campaign to try to blur the line between legal immigrants and undocumented ones. Let’s take a look.
Part of the difficulty with fact checking attacks on Trump based on his statements is that he often has made contradictory comments – or made bold attacks that he later tried to clarify.
So, for instance, the Clinton campaign points to Trump’s announcement speech on June 16, 2015, as evidence for an attack on all immigrants. Trump said: “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. …When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.”
At the time, this was often interpreted in the media as a reference to all immigrants. Not until July 6, three weeks later, did Trump clarify that he was talking only about illegal immigrants: “The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world. On the other hand, many fabulous people come in from Mexico, and our country is better for it. But these people are here legally and are severely hurt by those coming in illegally. I am proud to say that I know many hardworking Mexicans – many of them are working for and with me…and, just like our country, my organization is better for it.”
Trump’s lack of precision in his language has thus left him open to attacks, especially because he often allows initial impressions to gel before he attempts to clarify what he had supposedly meant to say.
Trump, however, eventually clarified that he was attacking illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, not all Mexican immigrants. (In any case, his statements are false.) So here the Clinton campaign is deliberately ignoring his clean-up explanation.
The Clinton campaign points to other Trump statements as evidence of a broader attack by the GOP presidential nominee on immigrants, not just undocumented immigrants. The campaign says this material backs up the line in the video that “Trump has made his plan for immigrants and their families clear.”
In particular, the campaign cites his proposal for funding a wall on the border with Mexico, his position on birthright citizenship and his proposal to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Let’s look at each of this in turn.
The Wall. Trump told The Washington Post in April that he would force Mexico to pay for the wall (which could cost as much as $25 billion) by threatening to cut off the flow of billions of dollars in payments that immigrants send back to the country. Mexican immigrants make up 28 percent of 42 million foreign-born population in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. At the time, Trump said the threat would be withdrawn if Mexico made a $5 billion to $10 billion payment to the United States to help fund the wall.
Birthright citizenship. Trump not only has said that he believes it is wrong for the children of illegal immigrants to automatically receive citizenship if they are born in the United States (“anchor babies”) but in interviews in August 2015, he also indicated that he would seek to deport children of illegal immigrants who are U.S. citizens by virtue of their birth. In his words, he would “test it out in the courts” because he thought he could make a case that “they do not have American citizenship.” (He said he might make an exception if a child had parents who are “very bad people.”) In theory, that could affect about 4.5 million people born in the United States to parents who were undocumented immigrants. But most scholars believe any change in birthright citizenship would require a constitutional amendment.
DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an Obama administration policy that allows qualified undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. More than 650,000 applications have been approved, and presumably these people would be subject to deportation under a Trump presidency. Of course, some might argue that these individuals do not fall under the category of “immigrants.”
The first two items – the threat on remittances and the threat to deport children with birthright citizenship – conceivably might affect some immigrants and their families. But not all.
Trump’s campaign has been centered on the threat that he claims is posed by illegal immigrants. His announcement speech was interpreted as an attack on Mexican immigrants, but he eventually clarified that he was talking about undocumented immigrants. His plan for a wall on the border, his denial of birthright citizenship and his pledge to rescind DACA are all part of his proposed efforts to thwart illegal immigration.
His proposal to make Mexico pay for the wall by halting remittances could certainly affect legal immigrants from Mexico, but again he makes this proposal in the context of attacking illegal immigration; any possible effect on immigrants is a by-product of his plan to eliminate illegal immigration.
All too often, Trump’s proposals are ill-defined and poorly explained, making it hard to discern his actual intentions. Muddying the waters even more, he has also proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and forcefully claimed that vetting procedures for refugees are inadequate.
Still, the Clinton campaign is using slippery language to suggest that Trump’s attacks on illegal immigrants are actually a broader assault on all immigrants. If Clinton misspoke, she did so in a way that conveniently mirrored her campaign’s video. The video itself stretches the truth, leaving the impression that Trump is broadly attacking even legal immigration. It’s quite possible that the Clinton campaign does not want to appear as if it is endorsing illegal immigration. But it goes too far in claiming that Trump’s “plans for immigrants” are clear.
We will accept that Clinton misspoke in the CNN interview. But we are going to keep a close watch on whether her campaign keeps using slippy language that blurs the line between legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants.