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Story highlights

Trump took a much softer tone on undocumented immigrants in a 2012 CNBC interview.

Trump said, "[N]ow we're supposed to send them out of the country, I don't believe in that..."

(CNN) —  

Just four years ago, Donald Trump took a drastically different position on what is now his central issue: deporting undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Since he announced his candidacy last June, Trump has promised to build a wall on the US border with Mexico and at various times said he would, as president, deport all or many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. However, in an June 2012 interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box reviewed by CNN’s KFile, Trump said he didn’t believe in deporting undocumented immigrants who, he said, “had done a great job.”

Asked about his views on immigrant labor, Trump said, “You know my views on it and I’m not necessarily, I think I’m probably down the middle on that also. Because I also understand how, as an example, you have people in this country for 20 years, they’ve done a great job, they’ve done wonderfully, they’ve gone to school, they’ve gotten good marks, they’re productive — now we’re supposed to send them out of the country, I don’t believe in that, Michelle, and you understand that. I don’t believe in a lot things that are being said.”

Trump’s comments came in the context of a discussion of the Supreme Court’s decision a day before on the state of Arizona’s tough immigration law. Trump said “both sides lost” in the ruling, which struck down key parts of the law but upheld a part of the law allowing law enforcement to check the immigration status of a person when enforcing other laws.

A Trump campaign spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Trump kicked off his campaign in June 2015 by calling some of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico “rapists.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The tumultuous 2016 campaign is in a sudden limbo

In a speech in September laying out his immigration plan, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to building a wall on the US southern border and deporting undocumented immigrants with a criminal background. Trump did not specify in his speech what he would do with those that remain in the country, but did say undocumented immigrants seeking legal status would have to first leave the country.

“For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry under the rules of the new legal immigration system,” Trump said.

Full video of Trump’s CNBC answer below: