AUSTIN, Texas, Aug 23 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump held out the possibility on Tuesday of a softening of his hardline position on illegal immigration, a move that could help move him to the political center but hurt him with his most ardent supporters.
In an immigration town hall event with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, Trump was asked whether he would be willing to change U.S. law to accommodate those illegal immigrants who have been contributing to American society, obeyed laws and have children.
"There certainly can be a softening because we're not looking to hurt people," Trump replied, insisting there were some "great people" among the immigrant population.
It was the latest example of Trump appearing to waver on his long-held stance he would deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries. His new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told CNN on Sunday that Trump's proposed "deportation force" for the 11 million people in the United States illegally was "to be determined."
See images of Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail:
Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail since the RNC
Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail since the RNC
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for a rally at Duplin County Events Center in Kenansville, North Carolina on September 20, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
ESTERO, FL - SEPTEMBER 19: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Germain Arena on September 19, 2016 in Estero, Florida. Trump is locked in a tight race against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Florida as the November 8th election nears. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the JetCenters of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Colorado on September 17, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0534 -- Pictured: (l-r) Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on September 15, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Bethel United Methedoist Church on September 14, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. Republican vice presidental nominee Gov. Mike Pence addresses a news conference with House GOP leaders following a conference at Republican headquaters on Capitol Hill September 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. When asked about former vice presidential candidate Speaker Paul Ryan's reluctance to endorse presidential candidate Donald Trump, Pence said that the House Republicans and the campaign agree on a plan for America. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, greets attendees after speaking at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. Any path Trump might take to the presidency inevitably leads through the Rust Belt and industrial Midwest the places the Republican nominee describes as 'rusting and rotting' war zones of manufacturing decline. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and Executive Managing Director, North America for BGC, Daniel LaVecchia attend Annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC and GFI at BGC Partners, INC on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
AKRON, OH - AUGUST 22: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the James A. Rhodes Arena on August 22, 2016 in Akron, Ohio. Trump currently trails Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Ohio, a state which is critical to his election bid. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)
FREDERICKSBURG, VA - AUGUST 20: GOP nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, VA on August 20, 2016 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)
US Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the Summit Sports and Ice Complex on August 19, 2016 in Diamondale, Michigan. / AFP / JEFF KOWALSKY (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, pauses while speaking during a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Two days after Trump said that President Barack Obama had founded Islamic State, and a day after he insisted that he meant what he said, the Republican presidential nominee reversed himself on Friday and claimed the statement was nothing more than sarcasm. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, speaks during a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Two days after Trump said that President Barack Obama had founded Islamic State, and a day after he insisted that he meant what he said, the Republican presidential nominee reversed himself on Friday and claimed the statement was nothing more than sarcasm. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SUNRISE, FL - AUGUST 10: Republican presidential candidate Donald J.Trump addresses the audience during a campaign event at BB&T Center on August 10th, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Johnny Louis/WireImage)
WILMINGTON, NC - AUGUST 9: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters during a campaign event at Trask Coliseum on August 9, 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina. This was TrumpÃs first visit to Southeastern North Carolina since he entered the presidential race. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, is seen on a monitor speaking during an event to discuss his economic plans at the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Trump is promising the biggest overhaul to the personal income-tax code since Ronald Reagan, as well as a deep cut in the corporate tax rate. He's also pledging to end excessive regulation and lift restrictions on the nation's energy producers. Photographer: Sean Proctor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 4: Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage being introduced at a rally in Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, August 4, 2016. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JULY 29: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waves to supporters after his speech at the Gallogly Event Center on the campus of the University of Colorado on July 29, 2016 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images)
SCRANTON, PA - JULY 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters on July 27, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke at the Lackawanna College Student Union Gymnasium. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - JULY 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a press conference at Trump National Doral on July 27, 2016 in Doral, Florida. Trump spoke about the Democratic Convention and called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, waves to the crowd after addressing the 117th annual VFW National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 26: Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks on at the 117th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States as veterans strive for a photo at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 26, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. One day after Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton faced the same group, Trump promised a revision to health care for veterans. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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Later on Tuesday, at a rally in Austin, Trump appeared to shift his emphasis to dealing with illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the United States. He brought on stage eight mothers whose children were killed by illegal immigrants.
Trump ticked off a series of statistics about crimes committed by some illegal immigrants and vowed that would be stopped under his presidency.
"Not going to happen, folks," he said. "We're not going to let it happen to our country."
"We're not going to let it happen to our country."
Donald Trump, GOP nominee
Trump, who postponed an immigration speech originally planned for Thursday in Denver, said he would stop some major cities' practice of providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants and stop immigrants from overstaying their visas.
A move by Trump to modify his stance on immigration could help him attract more support among moderate voters in his uphill drive to win the Nov. 8 election.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Democrat Hillary Clinton expanding her lead over Trump to 12 points among likely voters, with 45 percent support to 33 percent for Trump.
But a change in Trump's position could prove to be dispiriting to some of his strongest supporters. Trump defeated 16 rivals for the Republican presidential nomination and one factor that helped him was being the most hardline candidate on immigration.
"Why would anyone be surprised that Trump has pivoted to becoming the 'amnesty' candidate?" said Republican strategist Rick Tyler, a former spokesman for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a conservative. "When you have no governing philosophy, pivots are par for the course. Guess we won't need Mexico to build that wall."
'FOLLOW THE LAWS'
At his Austin event, attended by thousands who packed a rodeo arena, some were shouting: "Build the wall" long before Trump even showed up, a reference to the New York businessman's oft-stated promise to build a wall along the U.S. with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it.
Some of those attending the event, however, liked that Trump might be offering a more expansive view on immigration.
"I think he's saying the law needs to be looked at," said Barbara Thomas, a Trump supporter from the Austin area. "I think it would be very hard for all of them to be deported. I think the system needs to be fixed. It has some problems."
Immigration politics have long divided American voters. Then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, fought for changes to U.S. immigration laws in 2007 but the effort fizzled in the U.S. Congress. Democratic President Barack Obama's attempts have failed to bear fruit amid partisan gridlock.
Trump insisted in the Hannity appearance he would "follow the law."
"We have very strong laws in this country. And you know Bush, and even Obama, sends people back. Now, we can be more aggressive on that but we want to follow the laws," he said.
His vice presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, said in a CBS News interview that Trump would be "tough but fair" in dealing with illegal immigrants.
"People who have run afoul of the law gotta leave immediately," Pence said. When pressed, he said the details would need to be worked out with Congress.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)