This week the President of the United States delivered his much-anticipated State of the Union to unite the Democratic and Republican parties on a range of contentious issues still unresolved in Congress. One of those hot-button issues has been immigration. As you may recall the President has given Congress until March 5, 2018 to pass legislation protecting Dreamers from deportation.
Ahead of the President’s speech the White House unveiled an immigration framework thought to gain support from Democrats in Congress, however the Democratic response in the room to the President’s remarks on immigration was somber.
While the President’s speech focused largely on improving the economy and helping small American businesses, the President also touched on immigration. President Trump opened his remarks on immigration by calling for immigration policies that will put American workers and their families first.
To highlight the importance of border security and implementing tougher immigration policies the President recounted the tragic story of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two close friends that were brutally murdered by adolescent gang members of MS-13, who the President said took advantage of the country’s loopholes to gain entrance into the country as unaccompanied minors. The parents of Kayla and Nisa Mickens stood tearfully to receive applause from members of Congress in the room. The President called on members of Congress to “close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminals” to enter into the country. The President touted that his administration has proposed new legislation to fix the country’s immigration laws and support ICE and Border Patrol Agents in their efforts to apprehend dangerous criminals.
What the President failed to mention is that this type of brutality is unmatched among unaccompanied minors and as tragic as the story of these two young girls is, these types of occurrences are not the norm in the United States. The President sought to demonize the image of unaccompanied minors by using gang members of MS-13 as an example of the type of individuals entering the United States as unaccompanied minors, however that is simply not the case. It is deeply disappointing that the President utilized this example to advance his own political agenda, instead of sticking to the facts.
A mainstay of President Trump’s speeches is this idea that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to public safety. However, numerous studies and the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. These studies have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. The idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime is patently false. This does not mean that we as a country should downplay the horrible tragedy that befell these two girls, but demonizing unaccompanied minors is simply not the answer to resolving violent crime at the hands of gang members.
Perhaps the most eyebrow raising line of the President’s speech came when he called on Democrats and Republicans to defend Americans “to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.” In delivering this line, the President seemed to be taking aim at recipients of the DACA program by downplaying their struggles in the United States, and implying that Dreamers are not Americans, and that their dreams are not as valuable as those of American citizens. These remarks are deeply troubling given that Dreamers make enormous contributions to the United States economy and in many ways, form the vibrant fabric of our country as business owners, medical students, doctors, etc.
The President then turned to the four pillars of his administration’s immigration framework which Congress will focus on during the next few weeks. The first pillar generously offers a 10 to 12- year path to citizenship for nearly 1.8 million Dreamers living in the United States, at the cost of committing $25 billion dollars to construct a border wall, fortifying the Southern border, terminating the diversity visa lottery program which awards 50,000 immigrant visas to immigrants from underrepresented countries, and ending what the President has called “chain migration” the process by which US Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents petition for extended family members such as brothers and sisters. Under the President’s immigration framework, US Citizens and LPRs would only be allowed to petition for spouses and minor children.
Democrats strongly oppose the President’s view of “chain migration,” as well as the commitment of allocating $25 billion dollars to fund a border wall that ultimately does not solve the problem of illegal immigration, given that millions of undocumented immigrants gained entry to the United States with a valid U.S. visa and later overstayed that visa, remaining in the United States unlawfully. Democrats will likely carve out a narrower immigration bill that grants some of these concessions to Republicans.
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s speech missed the mark entirely. If the President sought to unify members of Congress to pass immigration bill, the speech only inspired further division among the two parties. Democrats were visibly offended as they watched the President yet again deliver another speech that cast an image of immigrants as dangerous threats to our society. Over the next few weeks, members of Congress must attempt to push their differences aside, and finally pass legislation protecting Dreamers from deportation.
To read the full transcript of the President’s speech please click here.