Republican Donald Trump is continuing to offer voters a more nuanced stance on U.S. immigration policies if he is elected president, rejecting his one-time call for mass deportation for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country but not granting them citizenship either.
Trump, a real estate mogul making his first run for elected office, told Fox News late Wednesday, "No citizenship. Let me go a step further — they'll pay back taxes, they have to pay taxes. There's no amnesty as such [for entering the country illegally], but we work with them."
In a series of interviews this week, Trump has abandoned his call during the months-long campaign for the Republican presidential nomination for a "deportation force" to return the undocumented migrants to their home countries. Instead, he proposes quickly sending convicted criminals out of the U.S., while considering other individual immigration disputes in court hearings, much like the current U.S. policy.
"Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out," Trump said. "But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I've had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they've said, 'Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump,' I have it all the time. It's a very, very hard thing."
WATCH: Trump on his relationship with African-American community
Build a wall
Trump has continued his signature vow to build a massive wall along the southern U.S. border to thwart the stream of migrants entering the country from Mexico and Central America, a campaign pledge that critics have derided as impractical but one that drew wide support from Republican voters.
"We are building the wall and Mexico will pay for it," Trump told cheering supporters Thursday at a rally in the northeastern state of New Hampshire.
He accused his Democratic opponent in the November 8 presidential election, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of trying to smear his supporters as racist for favoring enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
"If you want to have a strong border, it doesn't make you a racist; it makes you smart," Trump said. "It makes you an American."
Trump and Clinton traded barbs Wednesday in their fight for minority voters — African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians — the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate. National surveys show Clinton with a wide advantage over Trump among all minority voters, while he retains a much smaller edge among white voters.
At a rally in the southern city of Jackson, Mississippi, Trump disparaged her as "a bigot who sees people of color only as votes."
Clinton: Trump is 'peddling bigotry'
Clinton, in an interview on CNN, said Trump "is taking a hate movement mainstream," contending that he is "very much peddling bigotry and prejudice and paranoia." She is contending Thursday that Trump has embraced a "disturbing alt-right" political philosophy that presents "a divisive and dystopian view of America" that is at odds with reality.
A new Pew Research Center survey shows that Americans are divided on immigration policies, but more say that improved border security and a path to citizenship should both be pursued, rather than each one individually.
The poll of more than 2,000 adults surveyed showed 76 percent agreed that undocumented immigrants are as hard-working and honest as U.S. citizens, while two-thirds said they are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes.
The survey also found that 61 percent opposed Trump's build-a-wall plan.
Overall, Pew found that 29 percent favored “creating a way for immigrants already here illegally to become citizens if they meet certain requirements,” while 24 percent said the U.S. should focus on “better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.”
A 45 percent plurality, however, said both ideas should be given equal priority.
National polls continue to show Clinton, seeking to become the country's first female president, leading Trump, a one-time television reality show host.
An aggregate of surveys compiled by realclearpolitics.com says Clinton has an average 6-percentage point advantage; however, the
latest poll of likely voters, conducted in recent days by Quinnipiac University, has Clinton ahead by 51 to 41 percent.
In a four-way race that includes Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party contender Jill Stein, Clinton's lead narrows. The survey has Clinton at 45 percent, Trump 38, Johnson 10 and Stein 4.
Voters continue to view both candidates unfavorably, but him more than her. The survey said those questioned had an unfavorable view of Clinton by a 53 to 41 percent margin, but Trump by a 61-33 percent split.