For the moment, I have to say that I was relieved when the President got through his long State of the Union section on immigration.
There had been so much talk about the possibility of a big new announcement and about the efforts of at least a few inside the White House to put together some kind of new comprehensive compromise plan, I was braced for some major backtracking. I breathed a sigh of relief when he moved on to the trade issue without offering an amnesty or asking for larger guest worker programs.
I preferred what he said in last year's SOTU address which dealt much more with the broad issues of immigration, while this year was mainly about law and order. But after the long partial government shutdown, it is understandable that he would use the occasion to try again to build public support for his assessment that the chaos on our southern border is a major problem.
(Go to the bottom of this blog to see what Pres. Trump said about immigration in last year's SOTU addess.)
Here was my statement to the national news media at the end of the speech:
"We applaud the President for not just proclaiming a "moral duty" to have an immigration system that protects the lives of Americans but also their jobs. He demonstrated that as he laid out his best case yet for more fencing in strategic areas while declining to offer to get it by trading the interests of wage-earning Americans through amnesties and new worker-importation programs.
Unlike last year, however, he did not call for ending unnecessary generalized immigration like the visa lottery and chain migration that slows down the economic momentum that is pulling so many Americans back into the workforce. And while focusing on stopping and catching illegal migrants, he failed to call for mandatory E-Verify which is necessary to cut off the jobs that are the main magnet drawing them here."
The President talked a lot early in his speech about the many wonderful improvements in job opportunities for Americans. He said "an economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations."
But any increase in the already-high mass immigration could also stop -- or slow down -- the jobs miracle that is occurring. It would do so by relieving employers from having to recruit people out of poverty. He noted that "unemployment for American with disabilities has also reached an all-time low." He said nearly "5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps."
I wish the President had tied immigration policy more directly to those kinds of benefits. If the Gang of Eight amnesty and immigration expansion of 2013 had passed, millions of those jobs would have gone to people from other countries instead.
PRESIDENT TRUMP'S 2019 REMARKS ON IMMIGRATION
(I will now provide you with all of the President's immigration-related comments tonight and will comment on some of them in the quote sections. I'll also highlight in red the sections of the speech I think were most significant. -- ROY)
TRUMP: "As we have seen, when we are united, we can make astonishing strides for our country. Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis.
"The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.
"Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.
In order to pass anything to better secure the southern border, the President has to persuade enough Democrats to look at the real issues and not just about whether they will be helping Trump politically if they vote to strengthen the border. In my opinion, the President often undercuts his case by overstating the threat of the average illegal alien. But there was no overstating who is in control of who crosses our southern border right now, and that is the 'ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers.' Surely this is a common enemy that calls for bi-partisanship. We need to constantly remind our Democratic Representatives and Senators of those dark forces. -- Me
"As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught.
Many Democrats in the room murmured negatively at the very mention of 'caravans' as if he was making it up. Perhaps they feel that the President has overstated how many of those in the caravans are physical threats to the United States. But even if every single person is just seeking to illegally take a job, that is a major economic threat to vulnerable Americans. And the very fact of the caravans tells the world that our borders are open for business for anybody willing to take some risk.
"This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well‑being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our Nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally.
At this point, the President left his script and emoted that he wants more people coming legally than at any time in history. If he really believes that, we have major cause for concern. I think it was a spur-of-the-moment comment that is typical of his hyperbole. If true, the comment betrays an ignorance of how generalized, unnecessary legal immigration is just as harmful to vulnerable workers as illegal migration. The fact that he nowhere talked of any reductions -- as he did last year -- is not a good sign. We must be vigilant.
"Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.
"No issue better illustrates the divide between America's working class and America's political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.
"Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration -- reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.
"Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate -- it is cruel. One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north. Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country.
"Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.
We have to persuade enough Democratic members of Congress that they cannot continue to look away from these horrors. Right now, the House Democratic leadership not only refuses to give an inch of new fencing but is proposing rolling back "yards" of several types of enforcement along the border. All of that will be more encouragement to the human trafficers and sex traffickers. By focusing too much identification of this project as his own, the President didn't make it easier tonight for Democrats to join in this fight. But at some point, constituents have to help Democrats put the interests of the nation ahead of their hatred for Trump.
"Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities -- including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.
"The savage gang, MS-13, now operates in 20 different American States, and they almost all come through our southern border. Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City. We are removing these gang members by the thousands, but until we secure our border they're going to keep streaming back in.
"Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.
"I've gotten to know many wonderful Angel Moms, Dads, and families -- no one should ever have to suffer the horrible heartache they have endured.
"Here tonight is Debra Bissell. Just three weeks ago, Debra's parents, Gerald and Sharon, were burglarized and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada, home by an illegal alien. They were in their eighties and are survived by four children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren. Also here tonight are Gerald and Sharon's granddaughter, Heather, and great‑granddaughter, Madison.
"To Debra, Heather, Madison, please stand: few can understand your pain. But I will never forget, and I will fight for the memory of Gerald and Sharon, that it should never happen again.
"Not one more American life should be lost because our Nation failed to control its very dangerous border.
"In the last 2 years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings.
"We are joined tonight by one of those law enforcement heroes: ICE Special Agent Elvin Hernandez. When Elvin was a boy, he and his family legally immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. At the age of eight, Elvin told his dad he wanted to become a Special Agent. Today, he leads investigations into the scourge of international sex trafficking. Elvin says: "If I can make sure these young girls get their justice, I've done my job." Thanks to his work and that of his colleagues, more than 300 women and girls have been rescued from horror and more than 1,500 sadistic traffickers have been put behind bars in the last year.
"Special Agent Hernandez, please stand: We will always support the brave men and women of Law Enforcement -- and I pledge to you tonight that we will never abolish our heroes from ICE.
"My Administration has sent to the Congress a commonsense proposal to end the crisis on our southern border.
"It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry. In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall -- but the proper wall never got built. I'll get it built.
Without closing those asylum loopholes, additional fencing is not going to do much to discourage the caravans.
"This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier -- not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down.
"San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country. In response, and at the request of San Diego residents and political leaders, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.
"The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime -- one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our Nation's most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.
"Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let's work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe."
PRESIDENT TRUMP'S 2018 IMMIGRATION COMMENTS A YEAR AGO
"Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.
"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. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.
"Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters -- Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens -- were close friends on Long Island. But 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. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa's murders. 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.
"Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you.
"Everyone in America is grieving for you. And 320 million hearts are breaking for you. We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.
"Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.
"The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers, and America's forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.
"So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. 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.
"Here tonight is one leader in the effort to defend our country: Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez -- he goes by CJ. CJ served 15 years in the Air Force before becoming an ICE agent and spending the last 15 years fighting gang violence and getting dangerous criminals off our streets. At one point, MS-13 leaders ordered CJ's murder. But he did not cave to threats or fear. Last May, he commanded an operation to track down gang members on Long Island. His team has arrested nearly 400, including more than 220 from MS-13.
"CJ: Great work. Now let us get the Congress to send you some reinforcements.
"Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate will be voting on an immigration reform package.
"In recent months, my Administration has met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bipartisan approach to immigration reform. 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.
"Here are the four pillars of our plan:
"The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age -- that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States.
This was an incredible concession, but congressional Democrats did nothing to take advantage of that offer. Despite so much rhetoric about helping the so-called "Dreamers," Democrats showed no interest in finding a way to make that happen last year.
"The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a wall on the Southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like CJ to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country -- and it finally ends the dangerous practice of "catch and release."
"The third pillar ends the visa lottery -- a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people. It is time to begin moving towards 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.
"The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. 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. This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security, and our future.
"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.
"It is time to reform these outdated immigration rules, and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan disagreed with the two pillars that would have eliminated the immigration of millions of unnecessary, generalized foreign workers over the next decade. So, he did all he could to narrowly defeat the plan Trump offered in the 2018 State of the Union speech.
"These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise, and one 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.
"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."
But with the resistance of congressional Republican leadership and virtually all congressional Democrats, Trump's four pillars were rejected. So he came back in 2019 asking for only one pillar -- the second one, having to do with border security.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA, the nation's largest grassroots immigration-reduction organization
Updated: Tue, Feb 19th 2019 @ 10:45pm EST