As he warned a primetime audience of millions about the dangers of “uncontrolled, illegal migration” — employing gruesome language to describe rapes and murders of Americans — President Donald Trump on Tuesday made no mention of the vast number of immigrants who have lived in the United States illegally for years.
He did not speak of the estimated 1.8 million or more who were brought to the country as minors, a group known as “Dreamers.” He ignored the 4 million immigrant parents living here with at least one child who is an American citizen or lawful permanent resident.
And he said nothing of the 8 million undocumented people who have lived in the United States at least five years and, according to a government study, would likely have earned citizenship under a comprehensive immigration bill proposed in 2013.
“Over the last several years, I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible.
“I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices, and the sadness gripping their souls,” he continued. “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
For Trump, the nine-minute address to the nation marked the latest rhetorical effort to paint immigrants broadly as terrorists, criminals and a threat to American society — one that began with his campaign announcement in 2015, when Trump spoke of rapists coming from Mexico.
At his first State of the Union address in 2017, Trump met in the Oval Office with the “angel families” of Americans who were killed by undocumented immigrants, including two widows of California police officers killed while on duty in 2014. The families sat in first lady Melania Trump’s box in the House chambers during Trump’s speech to Congress.
Yet Trump is not known to have met with a “Dreamer” since two years before his campaign launch in 2015, even as he has professed to be interested in showing “great heart” in negotiating a solution over their future in the country.
In his remarks Tuesday evening, Trump offered none of the uplifting rhetoric that his two most recent predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, used in their own prime-time immigration speeches from the White House in 2014 and 2006, respectively. Both of them painted most immigrants as hard workers who sought to assimilate and become Americans, calling on the nation to remember its history as a “nation of immigrants.”
“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now,” Trump said. It is not clear what statistics he is referring to, although it appears likely he was including the more than 3,000 Americans who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
In recent days, Trump and his top aides, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have stated that 4,000 immigrants with terrorist ties have been apprehended trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet the administration has not provided any evidence and a report this week from NBC News found that only six terrorists had been captured at the border according to government statistics provided to Congress in the spring.
Over the years, several studies have found that immigrants, including those who are unauthorized, commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans — and that the more than 1 million migrants who are awarded green cards every year granting them legal permanent residency boost America’s economy.
In his 2006 address, Bush highlighted a Mexican immigrant who was severely wounded in Iraq while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and later earned citizenship. In 2014, Obama showcased an undocumented student who came as a child and was working on her third college degree.
Near the end of his remarks, Trump, too, offered some real world examples — of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants — an Air Force veteran from California raped and beaten with a hammer; a person in Georgia who was beheaded; and a 16-year-old Maryland girl stabbed to death.
“To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security,” Trump said, “I would ask: Imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken?”