Donald Trump plans to immediately deport or jail as many as three million undocumented immigrants, the Republican said on Sunday as he set out his priorities as America’s head of state in the first television interview since his election.
Millions were expected to tune in to Trump’s full interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” for clues on how the populist billionaire will govern, and how far he intends to convert his firebrand slogans into hard and fast policy.
Since Tuesday’s shock election triumph, Trump had appeared to tone down his rhetoric, notably suggesting he might be willing to reconsider a pledge to scrap President Barack Obama’s signature health reform.
But he made clear in excerpts of Sunday’s interview that he still intended to crack down on the undocumented, focusing on people with criminal records.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people -- probably two million, it could be even three million -- we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said.
He also said he stood by his pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, although he said it could include some fencing.
“After the border is secure and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that,” he said. “But before we make that determination...it’s very important, we are going to secure our border.”
Experts estimate there are as many as 11 million foreigners living illegally in the United States, many of them central and southern Americans long-established in the country.
Trump’s stance stood in opposition with comments by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said Sunday the focus under a Trump administration would be on securing the border, not rounding up immigrants.
“We are not planning on erecting a deportation force. Donald Trump’s not planning on that,” Ryan told CNN.
Since his election on the back of an incendiary anti-immigrant campaign, thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets daily, worried that Trump will put his rhetoric into practice.
The billionaire’s Trump Tower residence in Manhattan was picketed for four straight days by, with similar protests across the United States.
The tower has been a hive of activity as the real estate mogul huddles with his transition team to shape his cabinet -- appointments expected to play a crucial role in setting the tone of an administration led by a 70-year-old political novice.
Trump faces a colossal task in hammering out cabinet picks and filling hundreds of other top government jobs ahead of his January 20 inauguration.
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has said the announcement of White House chief of staff -- the powerful gatekeeper to the president -- is “imminent”.
Top contenders include Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, who Trump has credited for helping engineer his unlikely election win.
‘Hold him accountable’
Democrats have been despondent in the wake of an election they were certain of winning, but vowed on Sunday to oppose Trump -- despite now being locked out of power not only in the House and Senate, but now in the White House as well.
“Our job now is to hold him accountable,” said Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination race.
“If Mr. Trump has the courage to take on Wall Street, to take on the drug companies, to try to work forward, go forward to create a better life for working people, we will work with him, issue by issue.
“But if his presidency is going to be about discrimination, if it’s going to be about scapegoating immigrants or scapegoating African-Americans or Muslims, we will oppose him vigorously,” Sanders declared.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll out Sunday shows that 74% of Americans accept Trump’s election as legitimate, but that number fell to 58% among supporters of his defeated rival Clinton.
Some 60.3 million people voted for Trump in the November 8 election, fewer than the 60.8 million who chose Clinton. But Trump’s strong showing in swing states including Michigan meant he triumphed in the Electoral College which ultimately picks the president.
Trump has shown some willingness to soften his more strident positions. His U-turn on Obamacare -- he now says he may simply amend a law he once branded a “disaster” on the stump -- was prompted by his White House meeting with the outgoing president earlier this week.
He told CBS and The Wall Street Journal he may maintain some of the program’s more popular elements, such as a ban on insurance companies denying coverage because of so-called pre-existing health conditions.
Asked by the paper whether he would, as threatened, name a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state, Trump deflected, saying his priorities were “health care, jobs, border control, tax reform”.
Not long ago Trump was leading crowds in chants of “Lock her up!”
The Republican has yet to respond, however, to mounting calls to reassure Americans who fear a xenophobic crackdown under his authority.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups, tracked more than 200 incidents of election-related harassment in the three days following the vote, with many more allegations emerging on social media.
Tens of thousands have signed an SPLC petition urging Trump to clearly distance himself from hate groups.