Washington: Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, appearing to temper his hard-line approach to tackling immigration, said on Monday that he wants to come up with a plan that is "really fair" to address the millions of undocumented immigrants now in the US.
The changed comments from Trump, who is planning a major immigration speech this week, comes after he vowed to build a wall along the border with Mexico and deport immigrants who have entered illegally. The strategy had helped propel Trump to winning the Republican presidential nomination, writes the New York Times.
Asked on Fox News if he was flip-flopping on his immigration ideas, Trump insisted that he still intends to be "strong" while emphasizing the importance of fairness.
"We want to come up with a really fair, but firm, answer," Trump said. "It has to be firm. But we want to come up with something fair."
Trump's different tone could be an attempt to court moderate Republican voters disturbed by his tough stances on immigration. His remarks come as recent polls have shown him falling behind Hillary Clinton in several swing states.
Trump's new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, signalled over the weekend that the candidate has been rethinking his approach.
Pressed in an interview on CNN as to whether a deportation force was still on the table as a law enforcement measure, Conway danced around the question before demurring.
"To be determined," she said.
Over the weekend, Trump met with his newly formed Hispanic advisory council, and BuzzFeed reported that he expressed interest in finding a "humane and efficient" way to deal with undocumented immigrants that sounded at odds with his previous plan to remove them from the country.
During his primary campaign, Trump assailed all his Republican rivals for being too weak on immigration. He kicked off his campaign saying that Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the country, vowed that Mexico would pay for his planned border wall, and called for the "mandatory return of all criminal aliens."
On Sunday evening, the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton released a statement scoffing at Trump's potential change of heart on deportation, reported CNN.
"Donald Trump's immigration plan remains the same as it's always been: tear apart families and deport 16 million people from the United States," said campaign chair John Podesta.
Jose Fuentes, a Trump supporter and the former attorney general of Puerto Rico, was at the roundtable with Trump on Saturday, and said he did not walk away with the interpretation that Trump was open to legalization for some undocumented immigrants.
He said it was Trump who brought up the issue of those who are in the US illegally and
asked the group to share their ideas on how to deal with them. Fuentes said that Trump used the language of wanting to handle the issue in a "fair," "humane," and "legal" way, but Fuentes said he didn't automatically take that to mean that Trump was going allow some to stay or have legal status.
"He wanted to hear our ideas on how to deal with it. He requested that we put it in writing," Fuentes told CNN. "But that doesn't mean he's going to take them or that he's changed his mind."
The new tone from Trump comes as be continues to struggle in the polls with nonwhite voters. Since reshuffling his campaign leadership last week, Trump has already expressed "regret" for remarks that he has made during the campaign that might have been hurtful, and he expanded his outreach to black voters. While it may be too late to win over skeptical Hispanic voters, expressing the desire to be more fair could still help Trump with swing voters, says the NYT.