Trump: Deport illegals, but expedite the return of "the good ones" for legal status

Is that a change from a hard-line immigration position, or an endorsement of it? The deport-then-immigrate position has long been the hard-line position on immigration on the Right, although it does have one twist that’s outside the orthodoxy. Donald Trump explained this to CNN’s Dana Bash in an exclusive interview last night, along with his thoughts on health care, which are decidedly less hard-line:

Trump said Wednesday in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash that as president he would deport all undocumented immigrants and then allow the “good ones” to reenter the country through an “expedited process” and live in the U.S. legally, though not as citizens.

“Legal status,” Trump suggested. “We got to move ’em out, we’re going to move ’em back in if they’re really good people.”

For a blustering candidate whose rhetoric has snatched headlines and galvanized a sizable segment of the Republican base, Trump’s comments Wednesday represent his most detailed explanation into what he would do with the estimated 11-plus million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

He had previously suggested that he favors a “merit-based system,” but did not delve into his support of granting legal status, but not citizenship to undocumented immigrants he calls “the good ones.”

But Trump is still a long ways from presenting a specific immigration policy platform and his explanation in Wednesday’s interview shows a candidate who — despite leading in the polls a week ahead of the first primary debate — is still largely dealing in broad strokes.

John King, Ron Fournier, and Julie Pace discuss this as a departure from a more hard-line approach, focusing on the proposal to expedite the return of those who haven’t committed any other crimes. Putting them at the front of the line might put off some hard-line immigration policy proponents who have argued for years that those emigrating legally should get priority:

Trump’s position will still find favor with most of those who have flocked to his banner on this issue, but it presents two all-but-impossible scenarios. First, deporting 11 million people might be theoretically possible but is completely impractical. It would take an enormous amount of resources for years just to identify those who needed to be deported, let alone the necessary police and court actions to accomplish the deportation, unless Trump and the GOP plan to re-use Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” argument from 2012, which went over oh so well. At the end of that, then the immigration system would have to focus exclusively on those who got deported rather than those who have waited patiently for the US to get its act together — unless the GOP plans to dump hundreds of billions of dollars more into DHS over the next few years over and above what they will need to spend on securing the border and the deportations themselves.

In other words, this is a budget buster, and will need new revenues — taxes — to fund. A lot more revenue. But Trump hasn’t really shifted his position on immigration, at least not in this interview, so much as he’s fleshed it out a bit more.

Trump also clarifies his position on health care. Not long ago, while in the Democratic Party, Trump endorsed single-payer health care as the best reform, at one time pointing to the Canadian system as a model. He now disavows that position, but talks about the need to expand government provided health care, potentially in the form of subsidies to providers to care for the poor. That’s basically a Medicaid expansion, which isn’t going to find favor with conservatives angry at other candidates like John Kasich for adopting that very approach.