After hours of breathless media speculation that Donald Trump was planning to “soften” his hardline immigration stance, the President revealed in his address to Congress that his afternoon foray with news anchors was little more than a head fake. In his speech, Trump continued to embrace a cynical strategy of scorched-earth xenophobia.
Frank Sharry: “Trump is not softening on immigration.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:
We’ve seen this movie before. After a relentless barrage of vicious anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, Trump pretends to be almost normal, and too many fall for it.
Remember when he played with the idea of legalization on televised town halls with Sean Hannity in August of last year? Remember when he talked of “softening” on immigration right before his Phoenix speech in early September? Remember all the reporting that gave him credit for this “softening?”
We do. It was followed by the Phoenix speech in which he doubled down on inflammatory rhetoric and hardline positions. As Julie Pace of the Associated Press wrote last night, ‘Trump has flirted with a more lenient immigration policy before, saying during the campaign that he was open to “softening” his position. But he ultimately landed where he started, declaring during a speech in September that under his presidency, there would be “no legal status or becoming a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country.’’
Yesterday, Trump floated the idea of legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants and giving a path to citizenship to Dreamers in an off-the-record meeting with news anchors. Many fell for the head fake, once again. The chances of Trump busting a move on comprehensive immigration reform? Virtually none.
Why do we say this, we who advocate for comprehensive immigration reform? Because we are not going to fall for Trump’s fog machine. We are going to watch what he does.
What he’s doing is dragging America’s tradition as a welcoming nation into one of its darkest chapters. DHS just issued memos that add up to a blueprint for mass deportation. The White House brags of ‘unshackling’ enforcement agents that are notorious for terrorizing immigrant communities, engaging in racial profiling and disregarding due process. Many of those picked up in recent raids and deportations are ordinary folks trying to put food on the family table, not the ‘drug lords’ and ‘bad dudes’ that Trump regularly talks about. His DHS is busy setting up an office to publicize crimes committed by undocumented immigrants against citizens, a move as dishonest as it is divisive. He promises a new Muslim and refugee ban, to be issued any day now, a move antithetical to who we are as a nation. His team of Sessions, Bannon and Miller are working with anti-immigrant groups to put significant legal immigration cuts on the table. Those same anti-immigrant groups, some of them designated as hate groups, cheer his every move.
And we’re supposed to think he’s serious about legalizing undocumented immigrants and pursuing bipartisan reform? Excuse us while we get back to the urgent task of defending millions of immigrants, refugees, and visitors plunged into crisis by the white nationalist policies of this Administration.
Quotes and excerpts from commentators
Some observers have seen through the P.R. spin and obfuscations, and dispute the idea that Trump is softening on immigration.
In Slate, Jamelle Bouie captures the real story in a piece titled, “No, Trump’s Speech Was Not ‘Reaganesque.’ It Was Just Another Attack on Immigrants.”
In Trump’s narrative, immigrants are a profound threat to public safety; a vector for crime and drugs, and a serious menace to law-abiding communities. In reality, unauthorized immigrants are no more likely to commit crime than their native-born counterparts, and there is no epidemic of violence from people who made illegal border crossings. Far from an act of compassion, Trump’s gambit sends a dangerous message: that unauthorized immigrants deserve the harsh treatment the administration plans to deliver. To bolster this, Trump announced his plan to create a new Department of Homeland Security office dedicated to publicizing immigrant crime. ‘We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests,’ he said. Called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement or VOICE, it is little more than an official smear campaign against immigrants meant to tar them as dangerous and undesirable.
He performed the role of president, soaking in the pomp and circumstance like any veteran of reality television. But, also as always with Trump, one has to remember his primary focus. It was not jobs—for which, thus far, he’s only paid lip service—but attacks on those deemed foreign. It’s the most consistent part of his rhetoric, and it was part and parcel of his address to Congress. Strip everything else away—his camera-ready applause for Owens, his seemingly “presidential” bearing, even his opening nod to the shooting in Kansas and the threats to Jewish community centersaround the country—and you have a core of ethno-nationalist antagonism in the service of right-wing populism and white identity politics. No amount of standing ovations will ever mask that.
Pilar Marrero, who writes for the leading Spanish language newspaper La Opinion, was similarly not fooled by Trump’s supposed softening on immigration. Marrero assesses (translation provided by America’s Voice en Español):
In his speech, Trump said that ‘immigration reform’ was possible, but his proposal did not mentioned the legalization of undocumented immigrants who have lived and worked in this country for years, but rather the establishment of a ‘merit’ system, to ensure that persons can ‘support themselves financially’.
In other words, Trump wants to change the country’s legal immigration system, from one that balances personal merit concerns with family reunification, to one based on professional and personal qualifications of immigrants, which might sound good to some reformers, but it does not solve the current problem of millions of people.
His tone was softer and the speech was scrupulously read through the screens of a ‘teleprompter’, but many of his claims still have a serious problem: veracity.
Other longtime immigration observers, such as Greg Sargent, Dara Lind, Elise Foley, and Benjy Sarlin, also remain skeptical about the supposed softening on immigration and clear-eyed about the real immigration policy agenda of the Trump Administration.
Of course, as a New York Times report reminds us, the Jeff Sessions/Steve Bannon/Stephen Miller contingent is driving the policy agenda on immigration, no matter what President Trump may float. This would seem to preclude any softening on immigration. The Times reports that after Trump’s afternoon comments regarding an immigration compromise,
…the president’s aides glanced at one another. They moved quickly to alert Mr. Bannon and Mr. Miller, two of the main keepers of Mr. Trump’s address before Congress. That the proposal did not ultimately make it into the speech may speak to the influence of Mr. Bannon’s wing. But the town was confused and off balance, just the way Mr. Trump likes it.
And in the Los Angeles Times, Brian Bennett highlights that the Sessions/Bannon/Miller wing (far from softening on immigration) is explicit in its stated goals – as Bouie highlights, white nationalism is central to the explanation:
Behind President Trump’s efforts to step up deportations and block travel from seven mostly Muslim countries lies a goal that reaches far beyond any immediate terrorism threat: a desire to reshape American demographics for the long term and keep out people who Trump and senior aides believe will not assimilate.