03:39 - Source: CNN
Trump on Time Magazine, goes on campaign trail

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CNN  — 

It is rare to get major presidential candidates – on either side of the political aisle – outside the confines of prepared remarks, stump speeches and friendly audiences, so it’s worth paying attention when they actually take detailed questions.

Former President Donald Trump gave such a rare sit-down to Time magazine – yes, it is still a thing, although you don’t see the cover in the grocery story every week anymore – and he was asked about what a potential second Trump term would bring, including on the thorny issue of immigration.

Trump avoided specifics on most topics

He did not commit to the full “Project 2025” effort his supporters envision to gut the perceived “deep state” by reclassifying a much larger portion of the federal government as political appointees.

“We’re looking at a lot of different things. Civil service is both very good and very bad,” he said.

On other topics, he deflected

Trump insisted he would leave the issue of abortion rights up to states, even if it meant allowing them to jail women who seek abortions.

“You’ll have to speak to the individual states,” he said.

While at rallies he has referred to people jailed for storming the US Capitol as “hostages,” he did not commit to pardoning every one of them.

“If somebody was evil and bad, I would look at that differently,” he said.

He said his ‘dictator’ promise was a joke

And some of his more outlandish comments, he said, were just jokes. He said to put his repeated pledge to declare himself “dictator for a day” into this category.

“That was said sarcastically. That was meant as a joke,” he said.

The just-jokes defense may not assuage the concerns of Americans who truly fear the stress Trump puts on the American system of government. Trump seemed surprised at the idea some of his supporters have floated that the 22nd Amendment should be overturned so that he could serve more than two terms.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

But on deporting millions of people, he went into detail

The topic on which Trump had the most concrete details is his plan to deport many millions of undocumented immigrants.

Trump repeated false claims that many migrants are former prisoners or have been institutionalized in their home countries. CNN has reported there is no data to support the idea that a rise in immigrants drives a rise in crime. Most measures of violent crime in the US have actually been falling.

While he didn’t use the derogatory term, Trump pointed to “Operation Wetback,” the deportation initiative taken along the border with Mexico during the Eisenhower administration, as a model.

In 1954, border officials worked with local law enforcement to, they claimed, round up more than 1 million Mexican nationals and move them to the Mexico side of the border. Historians, as CNN reported in 2016, have argued that far fewer people were actually deported, since many people were apprehended multiple times. They also note that many US citizens were caught up in the dragnet and mistakenly deported.

John Moore/Getty Images
Immigrants wade through the Rio Grande while crossing from Mexico into El Paso, Texas, on March 12, 2024.

Trump promised mass deportation in 2016 too

While he did not employ an Eisenhower-like effort the first time he was president, Trump is bringing the pledge back. Trump told Time he would target between 15 million and 20 million people who he said are undocumented in the US. The exact number of undocumented immigrants is not clear. It is probably smaller than Trump says.

Pew Research Center estimated the number of undocumented migrants in the US was around 10.5 million in 2021. Pew’s estimate acknowledges the population may have grown as more people have tried to enter the US. As of 2021, it estimated about 3% of the US population and about 22% of the foreign-born population were undocumented.

There are clearly more people trying to enter the US. In the 2023 fiscal year, which lasts from October 2022 through September 2023, there were nearly 2.5 million “encounters” at the border. President Joe Biden has completely changed his rhetoric on immigration, in part to discourage migrants from traveling to the US and also as he seeks to work with Republicans on the issue.

Rather than work with Democrats, Trump wants to militarize the issue, but he would start by using local police forces and focusing on any migrants with a criminal record.

Trump was asked if his effort would include the military

“It would,” Trump said, adding, “when we talk military, generally speaking, I talk National Guard.”

He added that he would “have no problem using the military, per se,” although he thinks the National Guard would suffice.

He does not think that laws meant to prevent the use of the military against civilians inside the US without congressional approval would apply to his effort.

“These aren’t civilians,” Trump said of migrants. “These are people that aren’t legally in our country. This is an invasion of our country.”

He also repeated the conspiracy theory, for which there is no evidence, that “fighting age” males from China are somehow embedding themselves in the US.

“You have to do what you have to do to stop crime and to stop what’s taking place at the border,” he said.

What about massive migrant camps?

Trump tried to downplay the idea that there would be massive camps of detained migrants like those described to The New York Times by his immigration policy mastermind Stephen Miller, since, according to Trump, he would be deporting people so fast.

“We’re not leaving them in the country. We’re bringing them out,” he said. When asked under what authority he would make all of this happen, Trump suggested he would use federal money to pressure local police.

“There’s a possibility that some won’t want to participate, and they won’t partake in the riches, you know,” he said.

Any action Trump takes is sure to be challenged in court. He promised to comply with whatever federal courts say.

“I have great respect for the Supreme Court,” Trump said.