Donald Trump sent mixed signals Tuesday about his hardline stance on immigration, telling Fox News he would consider "softening" on how to deal with people already in the country but pledging to strengthen security along the US border with Mexico.
"There could certainly can be a softening [sic] because we're not looking to hurt people," the Republican presidential candidate told Fox News when asked whether he would allow some people who are living in the country illegally to remain if they are productive members of society.
"We have some great, great people in this country but we’re going to follow the laws of this country and what people don’t realize - we have very, very strong laws,” he told talk show host Sean Hannity.
Trump's remarks would mark a shift from previous vows to deport up to 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States if he is elected president.
But at a rally in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, Trump brought on stage relatives of people who had been killed by illegal immigrants and called for stronger border security, including repeating his pledge to build a wall and have the Mexican government foot the bill.
He also attacked Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for supporting the mass amnesty of illegal immigrants.
The events followed reports that Trump had intended to deliver a major speech on immigration in the western state of Colorado this week, but that speech was later cancelled.
Trump met Saturday with a group of Hispanic leaders in New York, and broadcaster Univision reported after the meeting that Trump would present a plan to legalize millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
Such a move would mark a major shift from his vow to deport 11 million with a deportation force and to build a wall along the US border with Mexico to keep out those unauthorized to enter the country.
Trump has made his hardline stance on immigration a central part of his campaign since he announced his candidacy and has drawn fire from critics for his vow to build a wall and for calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and criminals.
Trump is trailing Clinton in opinion surveys nationwide as well as in key states ahead of November 8 elections, and analysts say the move could be a bid to expand his base of support not only among minority voters but by whites turned off by his rhetoric.
Clinton's campaign and immigration groups have denounced any attempt by Trump to pivot on immigration as fake.
"Just as Latino voters won’t buy any attempt to repackage Trump, neither should Republican and swing voters," said Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration rights group America's Voice.
"Trump’s divisive fear-mongering has been the centrepiece of his campaign since June 2015 and a vote for Trump is a vote for racism."