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Washington: Donald Trump returned to form in Phoenix Wednesday night with a nativist immigration plan definitively ruling out legal status for undocumented immigrants, as well as proposing to build a wall on the southern border of the US and forcing Mexico to cover the cost.

“We will build a great wall," Trump said to a cheering crowd. “And Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it."

The speech, which postulated crime prevention as a rationale, came just hours after Trump travelled to Mexico at the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The two men met privately and discussed a range of topics that included illegal immigration and the possibility of amending the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, but they came away with markedly different interpretations on the question of Mexico’s willingness to pay for a wall.

Though he didn’t mention that Mexico would pay for the wall during the visit, Trump assured his audience in Phoenix that their neighbour would be a willing partner in both paying for it and helping to monitor the border.

“Mexico will work with us, I really believe it," Trump said.

The Republican presidential candidate didn’t back away from his pledge to deport criminal aliens, as well as those who attempted to cross the border illegally, though he did not specify how long such an effort would take or how much it would cost.

“Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are returned," Trump said, adding that, if he is elected president, the US would “end catch and release," and beef up the number of police and immigration officers dedicated to handling undocumented workers.

He also said: “There will be no amnesty. Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the US by illegally entering our country."

Trump also promised to “immediately terminate" President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including a 2012 program that currently shields some 750,000 young people from deportation.

Little of what he proposed was new, and the speech hewed to the immigration blueprint that Trump published on his website in August 2015. It came after a week in which he seemed to shift his positions on using a “deportation force" to remove approximately 11 million undocumented workers from the country. On one point, however, Trump added more clarity, pledging to deport “all illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever," adding that they would “be placed into immediate removal proceedings."

The fiery speech dashed the hopes of Republican operatives who wanted Trump to adopt gentler and more measured rhetoric.

“There was never any pivot," said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman who has been critical of Trump. “The media has been using that term for a year and it never happened. Even the Trump campaign stopped using it months ago."

The rally was at a convention center in downtown Phoenix. His warm-up speakers including Arizona governor Doug Ducey; Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of an Arizona county who has become a symbol of the anti-illegal-immigration movement; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence.

At various points in the speech, the crowd broke into chants of “build the wall!"

“There is only one core issue in the immigration debate, and that is the well being of the American people," Trump said. “Nothing even comes in a close second."

To stem the flood of illegal immigration, Trump pledged to enact new “ideological certification to ensure those admitting to our country share our values and love our people."

Trump also promised to improve the nation’s monitoring system for those who overstay their visas, and to crack down on 23 countries that he said currently don’t take back citizens who the US deports.

If the US elected him president and followed his prescription, Trump argued, “crime will go down, border crossings will plummet, gangs will disappear, and welfare use will decrease." Bloomberg

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