Donald Trump’s first joint address to Congress was bursting with hope, optimism, and good feelings—except toward immigrants. The president laid out a vision of a country that would be free from vice, crime, poverty, and all other ailments, if only there weren’t so many foreigners.
It was a distillation of one core view Trump has held ever since that fateful escalator ride two summers ago: that immigrants in the U.S. are a net negative, and that the way the U.S. government treats them needs to change, and fast. The media and the “special interests,” he hinted darkly, are conspiring to keep Americans from knowing the truth about the threat immigrants pose. But soon, things will be different.
“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims,” he said. “The office is called VOICE—Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.”
Never mind that immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crime, as the libertarian Cato Institute has detailed. In Trump’s America, their crime will draw heightened opprobrium, and their victims will get special status. Audible groans could be heard from the Democratic side of the House chamber.
Before the speech, Trump reportedly told news anchors he would be open to an immigration-reform bill offering a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living here, as ABC News reported. But there was no hint of that Tuesday night. Likewise, he didn’t mention his soft spot for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, even though several of them sat in the gallery seats above him as the guests of Democratic members of Congress.
Instead, Trump spent the speech blaming immigrants for the country’s problems.
“We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now-unprecedented rate,” Trump intoned.
So that means more enforcement—which is a usually a euphemism for deportation—as a quick, easy fix for everything wrong with the country.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone,” he said. “We want all Americans to succeed, but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders.”
So, he continued, we’re building a wall: “a great, great wall along our southern border,” he said.
And lots of people will get deported.
“As we speak tonight, we are removing gang members, drug dealers, and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens,” he continued. “Bad ones are going out, as I speak, and as I promised throughout the campaign.”
But ones who aren’t so bad—the ones who only ended up in detention because their lawyers messed up their paperwork, or because they were pulled over for a routine traffic stop, or because they were “collateral” in an ICE raid targeting someone else—they’re going, too, as the Department of Homeland Security’s memos on Trump’s immigration plans have detailed.
And many more won’t be able to get here in the first place. The White House is reportedly planning to roll out a new executive order banning travel to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim nations—though a more narrowly tailored ban than the one that died in court. Trump didn’t go into details during his speech, but the sentiment behind the ban was on full display: Immigrants bring crime, unemployment, poverty, and—you guessed it—terrorism.
So the speech delighted the hardest of the hardliners. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican known for his adamant support of strict immigration enforcement, told The Daily Beast that he found nothing troubling about the president’s immigration remarks.
Others took a different view.
“I’m concerned and a bit disturbed,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, a freshman from California, as she hustled through the jam-packed statuary hall after the speech.
And Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, said Trump’s office highlighting immigrant crime was unfair.
“What if I created a division of the Justice Department just to collect stories of people who had been brutally murdered by folks with bad toupees?” he said. “Would that be fair to our president?”