President Donald Trump blasted so-called “chain migration” during his State of the Union address Jan. 31, stating that immigrants sponsored by U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents were responsible for terrorist attacks on American soil.
“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,” said the president, addressing a joint session of Congress in his first State of the Union speech.
As Democrats sat stone-faced – many dressed in black to support the MeToo and Time’s Up movements, including Indian American Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois – Trump laid out the four pillars of an immigration framework proposal rolled out by the White House Jan. 25. He spoke of protecting 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,” he said, to applause and a standing ovation from the audience.
“This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security and for the future of America,” said the president.
The Associated Press fact-checked Trump’s claims of chain migration, concluding that the president was wrong in his assumption of immigrants being able to sponsor numerous relatives, because of inordinately long wait times for green card allocation.
The president unfathomably linked the nation’s opioid crisis to chain migration, stating that open borders have allowed drugs to pour into the U.S.
Trump advocated for a merit-system approach to immigration, “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.” He hammered in on the need for a border wall, and additional resources to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The president also pledged to end the diversity visa lottery, which he characterized as “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people.”
The president also linked Dreamers – beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program which provides relief from deportation to undocumented youth – to MS-13, a violent gang based in El Salvador.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” Trump said, as he pointed to two families sitting in the audience whose daughters had been killed by MS-13 gang members.
Indian American Sen. Kamala Harris, D- California, blasted Trump for equating Dreamers with the MS-13 gang. “MS-13 is an example of some of the worst of criminal gang behavior. To equate that with Dreamers and DACA was completely irresponsible and it was scapegoating and it was fear-mongering and it was wrong,” said the freshman senator in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
Harris has been a fierce advocate for Dreamers, and bashed Trump for ending the Obama-era initiative.
Trump has asked Congress to come up with a permanent solution to protect Dreamers by March 5, but has been in a stalemate with senators from both parties on the issue.
“We are failing to keep our promise to these young people,” said Harris, who brought a Dreamer, Denea Joseph, with her to the State of the Union address. Joseph was seven when she and her family migrated from Belize to the U.S.
Earlier this month, Harris met with Boe Mendewala, an undocumented Indian American who is currently earning her Ph.D. in physics at UC Merced. Mendewala spent a day on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress to urge them to pass the Dream Act (see earlier India-West story here).
Indian American members of Congress weighed in on Trump’s State of the Union address. “I wish President Trump governed with the same tone of promise and cooperation that he used at times during his speech tonight. If only the first year of his presidency had focused on infrastructure, investments in workforce development, and career and technical education, what a different political moment we would all be living in today,” said Krishnamoorthi in a press statement.
In an interview with Fox News, Krishnamoorthi said he is "willing to give Donald Trump some of the credit" for the economic boom, "just as I am to President Obama for laying the foundation several years ago."
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, said in a press statement: “Tonight was just another stump speech of broken promises we’ve heard before. What we need is action and a plan for our nation’s well-being, from job creation to health care, to education and climate change.”
The Silicon Valley congressman said he agreed with Trump’s proposals to expand vocational training, but noted that the president’s economic policies and tax cuts cannot support those goals.
“The platitudes and promises of the president’s address were as underwhelming as his first year’s accomplishments,” stated Khanna.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, boycotted the SOTU along with several members of Congress.
“Donald Trump has sown the seeds of division during his entire presidency. This speech, while calling for unity, in the next breath propagated the same divisive stereotypes that pit neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and sister against sister,” said Jayapal, who spoke at an alternate event called the State of Our Union. “I chose not to attend tonight’s address not because of policy differences, but because I cannot sanction or normalize Donald Trump’s hate and indecency,” said the Indian American congresswoman.
Jayapal chided Trump for his aim at ending family reunification via immigration, and for holding Dreamers hostage in exchange for building his much-vaunted wall.
“The state of our union is strong when fearless people stand up against tyrannical policies and do not confuse xenophobia with patriotism, or vitriol for values,” said Jayapal.