Last night’s State of the Union address, punctuated by riffs on immigration that were ugly and cynical, showed that President Trump is more interested in sowing division than in forging unity. Leading observers are highlighting similar points:
On cue came the meat of the speech: Demonizing immigrants. When he declared, “Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families,” he would have us believe he had not eradicated DACA, had not doubled the deportation of noncriminal illegal immigrants and not understood a single economic study finding immigrants contribute to our society by starting more businesses, committing fewer crimes and owning more homes (by percentage) than the native-born population. He utterly rejects the notion that America is the land of immigrants — the place made prosperous and dynamic by those who come here from elsewhere.
The truth about immigration is that it boosts the wages of native-born Americans, while Trump’s proposed cuts to legal immigration would modestly reduce America’s per person income and more substantially reduce our aggregate income. A Trumpified America, in other words, would be both poorer and weaker with less clout on the world stage and less prosperity for the average family.
[A]t roughly the halfway point Trump shifted gears, both in tone and subject matter. Immigration, unsurprisingly, was the pivot point. As Trump has done for more than two years, he calls on us to see undocumented immigrants through the prism of horrifying and vicious murders. This is nothing but the most elemental kind of incitement … every study shows that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, commit crimes at a low rate than the native-born. This is pure incitement. We can’t lose sight of that. The rest of the speech was in this thematic path, aggressive ethno-nationalism.”
Maribel Hastings in Washington Latino News and other publications [excerpt translated from Spanish]:
[Trump] used the pain of families who have lost loved ones to gang violence in order to establish a false parity between a criminal and an immigrant. In fact, it’s immigrants who are often victims of these gangs and if you talk to any of them, you’ll see that they are the first to say that those bad guys should be deported. It’s insulting that Trump makes no distinction and puts everyone in the same group.
Trump portrayed a dark and menacing world in which immigrants, who stand at the heart of the American idea, were equated with gangs, murderous criminals and “horrible people.” … If there was a theme, it was the demonization of immigrants and of the rest of the world, combined with an exaltation of American might. He spoke of building a “Great Wall” on the Mexican border, but it may as well have been against the rest of humanity.
Trump didn’t back off his immigration agenda, or the toxic ideas and rhetoric undergirding it, in the slightest. He merely tried to repackage those things as conciliatory. Trump called for a deal protecting the “dreamers” that would, he said, give concessions to both sides. But he reiterated his demand for large cuts to legal immigration, even as he rehashed his ugliest demagoguery about undocumented immigrants by blaming fictional open borders for crime and dissembling reprehensibly about the diversity visa lottery program and “chain migration.”
How does eliminating family reunification in the immigration system protect the nuclear family? “Chain migration” is a racist term of art contrived over the last few years because it sounds ominous. And then, later, while celebrating the triumph of a Korean refugee named Ji Seong-Ho, who fought through the perils of hell to get to South Korea, the president* said: “Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed.” Do you think he even was aware of how perfectly he had contradicted himself?