WASHINGTON—The president spent almost one-quarter of his 81-minute State of the Union speech on immigration, underscoring its pivotal role within his administration.
He began by saying it is the immigrant communities that suffer the most from illegal immigration and lax border security.
“For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans,” President Donald Trump said. “Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.”
Trump introduced Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens, the parents of two teenage girls who were murdered on Long Island, New York, by a group of MS-13 gang members.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors—and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” said Trump, naming the slain girls.
“In September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th birthday, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown,” Trump said. Six members of MS-13 have been charged with their murders.
Trump has called the unaccompanied minor and family unit program, “one of the largest loopholes in U.S. border security.”
“Every year, tens of thousands of illegal aliens—some traveling with their parents—are caught after illegally crossing the border, only to be quickly released into our country,” the White House said in October when it released its immigration priorities.
Trump said at the time that he wants to amend current laws that require authorities to release these illegal aliens en masse into the United States.
The number of unaccompanied minors removed in fiscal year 2016 represented approximately 4 percent of all unaccompanied minors released into the country that same year, according to the administration.
Trump appealed to Congress to get behind his proposal to give amnesty to 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought into the country as children, including 700,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries.
“In recent months, my administration has met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bipartisan approach to immigration reform,” Trump said. “Based on these discussions, we presented the Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise—one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”
The president wants tighter border security, including funding for a wall along the southwest border, and an end to chain migration and the diversity visa lottery, in exchange for the amnesty.
“In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration. In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can no longer afford,” Trump said.
“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.”
Trump rescinded the DACA program on Sept. 5, 2017, saying that former President Barack Obama was acting illegally and unconstitutionally when he launched the program through executive order in 2012.
Although Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent solution, a subsequent court ruling means DACA currently has no expiry date.
If Congress cannot agree on a legislative fix, there will be no consequences for the 700,000 recipients—for now they can continue to renew their two-year work authorization and are protected from deportation.
The case is due to be heard in the Supreme Court in the next several weeks.
A week after Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) forced a three-day government shutdown because he wanted an amnesty for DACA included in the spending bill, he has rejected Trump’s proposal outright, tweeting on Jan. 26 that it would “tear apart our legal immigration system.”
Schumer said Trump’s plan “flies in the face of what most Americans believe.”
However, a recent Harvard-Harris poll revealed that 68 percent of Americans said they oppose the diversity lottery and 79 percent said they believe “immigration priority for those coming to the U.S. should be based on a person’s ability to contribute to America as measured by their education and skills—and not based on a person having relatives in the U.S.”
In a June 2017 Gallup poll, 73 percent of Americans said they would prefer the same or lower levels of immigration.
“I have offered DACA a wonderful deal, including a doubling in the number of recipients & a twelve year pathway to citizenship, for two reasons,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 27. “(1) Because the Republicans want to fix a long time terrible problem. (2) To show that Democrats do not want to solve DACA, only use it!”
Immigration hawks are concerned about a number of potential consequences an amnesty could trigger.
Michael Cutler, a former INS agent and immigration expert, said the 1986 amnesty under President Ronald Reagan encouraged more illegal immigration.
“The greatest influx of illegal aliens occurred after the supposedly ‘one time’ 1986 amnesty,” Cutler said in an email on Jan. 26. He said if the amnesty for DACA is passed, it will “fire the starting pistol for illegal immigration.”
The Reagan amnesty was projected to give about 1 million illegal immigrants citizenship. However, the actual number was closer to 4 million.
Cutler said the estimated 1.8 million in the current amnesty proposal could also balloon to millions more as illegal aliens enter the United States and lie about their actual dates of entry.
“While the U.S.–Mexico border must be made secure, it will take years for that wall to be built and meanwhile each and every day those illegal aliens … know that if they can only enter the United States they can apply for [the amnesty],” Cutler said. He said as the southern border becomes more secure, more attention will need to be put on the alternate ways into the United States, including visa and document fraud, the northern border, and the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline.
Trump’s framework says the amnesty includes requirements for work, education, and good moral character. It also includes, “clear eligibility requirements to mitigate fraud” and the legal status is subject to revocation for “criminal conduct or public safety and national security concerns, public charge, fraud, etc.”
Data from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, says that 2,130 DACA recipients have had their status revoked due to criminal and gang activity since the program’s inception in 2012.
Trump has omitted any mention of mandatory e-verify in his new four-pronged plan. Proponents say e-verify is a critical step to stopping the continual flow of illegal immigrants. They say if the work dries up for illegal immigrants—due to them being deported and their employers being charged for hiring illegal aliens—fewer people will cross the border.
Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said in a blog post that the White House decided months ago not to push the measure, “thinking it would be a bridge too far for Democrats, since it impacts illegals who are already here.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has emerged as a strong ally for Trump in immigration reform, said the president’s plan is “generous and humane, while also being responsible.”
“The president’s willingness to grandfather everyone in the current immigrant backlog also shows he’s serious about reaching a bipartisan solution,” Cotton said in a statement on Jan. 25. The backlog consists of about four million, mostly chain migrants.
Trump has called his immigration proposal a “down-the-middle compromise” that will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system.
“For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen,” he said.
“Most importantly, these four pillars will produce legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to only sign a bill that puts America first. So let us come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done.”