5 things Trump got wrong about immigration in the State of the Union address
Although some media outlets and viewers on social media found Tuesday’s State of the Union speech to be a show of bipartisanship, anyone who was really listening knows better. Donald Trump’s speech focused heavily on immigration and what it means to be a real “American,” as if there were a narrow definition to such a thing. He relied on scare tactics, exaggerations, and straight-up lies to make his partisan, bigoted point. Just in case you can’t stomach a Trump speech — and really, we feel you — we made a list of some of the things Trump got wrong about immigration in the State of the Union. Now, you’ll have some facts ready when you hear people start to debate his “four pillars of immigration reform” that he laid out towards the end of his remarks last night. He began his speech by attempting to draw Americans together, saying:
"Over the last year, we have made incredible progress and have achieved extraordinary success. We have faced challenges we expected and others we could never have imagined. We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We have endured floods and fires and storms, but through it all, we have seen the beauty of America's soul and the steel in America's spine. Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are and show us what we can be."
In fact, it has been, in large part, immigrants who have endured hardship throughout the first year of Trump’s presidency, and there was no comfort in his words last night that things would be getting better or safer for them anytime soon. Although he didn’t call anyone a rapist or a murderer or write off entire land masses as “sh*tholes” in the Capitol building Tuesday night, we read between the lines for you.
1DREAMers are Americans, too.
The most obvious insult came in the form of a new slogan that Trump supporter and KKK leader David Duke used last night in the wake of the speech. Trump said that “Americans are dreamers, too,” flipping the table on participants in the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program. By definition, the DREAMers came to America as young children with parents who were fleeing their own countries looking for a another life. They are health care workers, retail workers, your bartender…there are 20,000 teachers alone with DACA status. What happens when they leave? Like other Americans, they shouldn’t have to be a neurosurgeon or a Nobel Peace prize nominee to feel like they belong here, either. If DREAMers aren’t Americans, than neither is the great grandmother who came on a ship from Europe as a kid that so many white people boast about. It’s ultimately the same thing.
2Not all immigrants are gang members.
One of the more heart-wrenching moments of the night came when Trump spoke about Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens, who lost their daughter Nisa Mickens at age 15 and Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, who lost their daughter Kayla Cuevas age 16. Both teens were allegedly murdered by MS-13 gang members in Long Island, New York in 2016. Losing a loved one to gun violence is tragic and awful, but in recognizing the two young women, Trump also equated almost all immigrants with gang members as he sneered to the crowd that the alleged gang member “somehow made it” in the young girls’ high school.
Gangs are complicated. No one wants young people to feel so isolated in this world that they band together and feel like they need to engage in some war. In fact, making room for young kids of immigrants in schools and after-school programs could only benefit them. But anyway, it’s a false equivalency to say that all immigrants become gang members. Some do, and our justice system and law enforcement have ways to combat that. Trump’s plan to close all borders won’t change that.
3And he’s really confused about what “safe” means.
While we’re talking about gangs and MS-13, let’s note that most immigrants from El Salvador feel unsafe in their country because of that gang. When Trump brags about deporting gang members but also revoking the temporary protection status for 260,500 Salvadoreans because the country is allegedly “safe” now, he’s trying to have it both ways. More than that, he’s missing the fine point that immigration is complicated. There are a lot of things to consider. Places aren’t “safe” or “unsafe,” and people aren’t exclusively “good” or “bad.”
4“Chain migration” is really about uniting families.
The third and fourth “pillars” of Trump’s immigration reform plan just blatantly, possibly purposefully, misinterprets systems we already have. Trump said that his plan “protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration.” He added, “Under the current, broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”
That is just not true, and this quote is full of dog whistles. If anything, Trump’s coded language to his base about “protecting nuclear families” is backwards. “Chain migration” is actually all about reuniting families — it’s called “family reunification,” and it’s actually really hard to do. A person can’t just bring everyone they’re related to into the country once they find an apartment. They have to prove a spousal or blood relation first. Once a person brings their spouse over, for example, that spouse then has to become a citizen in order to bring over their mother or another biological relative. It’s a slow and arduous process. Chain migration is a right-wing, racist code.
5We already vet people through the lottery system
Trump has the same problem when talking about the “lottery” visa program. That’s a misnomer, since it’s not like there’s a guy in the State Department who just spins a big bingo wheel every morning and pulls out a random ping pong ball with some refugee’s name on it. That’s obviously what Trump thinks happens, though, which is an amazing image if it didn’t affect so many people’s lives in serious ways. Last night, Trump said that he’s getting rid of the “visa lottery, a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people.” He added:
"It’s time to begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system. One that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country."
In fact, the Diversity Visa Lottery program was passed in 1990 with bipartisan support. It gives out 50,000 visas a year to immigrants who want to come from places in the world where we don’t already have a lot of people coming from. To qualify for the lottery, a person has to prove that they have a reason to immigrate and also endure extensive background checks. It’s not a raffle. Debating the merits of our specific immigration policies and visa programs is a worthwhile endeavor. Let’s all sit down and talk about it. But the administration and their base of supporters have to first admit that their opinions about certain people, countries, and the pros and cons of existing immigration programs are not facts. Maybe someone can tell the president that.