In an interview that aired Thursday on the Spanish-language channel Telemundo, journalist José Díaz-Balart pressed the president on his efforts to rein in immigration along the southern border, including his tweeted pledge earlier this week that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin deporting “millions of illegal aliens” as soon as next week.
“The Hispanics want toughness at the border, they don’t want people coming in taking their jobs,” Trump said. “They don’t want criminals to come because they understand the border better than anybody.”
Díaz-Balart asked Trump if it was a mistake to enforce his “zero-tolerance” immigration plan, which has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the border. Trump said he had no regrets.
“It’s not a mistake,” Trump said. “We want to have strong borders. It’s not a mistake.”
The president said that the policy of separation began under his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. That claim is not entirely accurate. According to The New York Times, previous administrations did break up families, but only occurred in very limited circumstances. There was also no formalized process of separation until the Trump administration began its zero-tolerance policy.
“I’m the one that put people together, they separated, I put ’em together,” Trump said. “I inherited separation, and I changed the plan and I brought them together. … I hated to have the separation policy. What zero tolerance means to me is that we’re going to be tough on the border.”
Trump has taken a hard line on immigration since he became president and appears to be making it a core issue of his reelection campaign. He recently replaced many of the country’s top immigration officials and is still touting his beleaguered wall along the southern border.
Trump also said he wasn’t worried about his electability in 2020 or any of the many Democratic challengers hoping to unseat him. To back this, he touted polling numbers that he said showed him doing well with Hispanic voters, Díaz-Balart questioned the figures.
“There are some who fear, who fear your rhetoric, who fear what’s going on at the border, who fear that you have said that you will be deporting millions of people,” Díaz-Balart said.
“They want me to do it!” Trump fired back. “They’re here illegally.”