New York Times
By Julia Preston
July 22, 2016
With all the political orthodoxy that Donald J. Trump tore up in his convention speech on Thursday night, he set aside a core tenet of the American narrative on immigration: that the United States is a nation of nations, built on the sweat and initiative of people who came from other countries.
Using even darker language than he had on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump did not include even a boilerplate mention of positive contributions by immigrants. He described foreigners who came to the United States illegally and became killers of American citizens and drug dealers. More forcefully than he had before, Mr. Trump said he would also impose new restrictions on legal immigration to protect American workers from lower-paid competition in the labor market.
Under his presidency, the American dream would be primarily reserved for Americans.
“The American people will come first once again,” he said.
Historians and legal scholars struggled to recall when a presidential candidate had departed so radically from the traditional view that America’s welcome for immigrants was a prime reason for its exceptional innovation and prosperity. Not since the restrictionist movements in the early 20th century has a leading politician tried to galvanize Americans with such an unalloyed nativist message.
“This was completely one-sided in its projection of what immigration means to the nation: It’s all bad,” said Peter J. Spiro, a professor of immigration law at Temple University.
In long passages, Mr. Trump made it clear that border security and immigration control were central pieces of a strategy to keep Americans safe from the rest of the world. He dwelled on the murders of Kate Steinle and Sarah Root, Americans who were killed by illegal border crossers with criminal records.
“These wounded American families have been alone,” he said. “But they are alone no longer.” There was no contrasting evocation of immigrant entrepreneurs or inventors or farmworkers.
Mr. Trump’s tough immigration stances could pose a risk in the general election. A Gallup poll released this week found that two-thirds of Americans opposed deporting immigrants who came here illegally, and that a similar amount opposed building a border wall, as Mr. Trump had proposed.
Mr. Trump’s indictment of the Obama administration’s policies was based on selected facts and dark hyperbole. He spoke of “massive refugee flows” of Syrians, saying there was “no way to screen those refugees.” Anyone “who endorses violence, hatred or oppression is not welcome in our country and never will be,” he said.
Under the current system, refugees coming from abroad, especially from Syria, go through multiple layers of vetting that can take as long as two years. Anyone who espouses violence is excluded. The Obama administration has said that it would accept 10,000 Syrians this year, a big increase because previous numbers were low.
“Since Sept. 11 we have created a thorough and careful system,” said David Martin, an emeritus law professor at the University of Virginia.
Painting images of a wide-open border, Mr. Trump said that the increase in those who crossed it illegally this year already exceeded the numbers from 2015, and that tens of thousands had been released “with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.”
Most of the immigrants are unaccompanied children and parents with children, largely from violence-torn countries in Central America, who are released to pursue asylum claims in immigration courts. The numbers have increased sharply this year after declining in 2015 but have not reached the levels of 2014.
Mr. Trump’s remarks drew a strong rebuke on Friday from President Obama, who rejected the notion that the nation was being inundated with immigrants coming illegally.
“We have far fewer undocumented workers crossing the border than we did in the ’80s, the ’90s, or when George Bush was president,” Mr. Obama said during a White House news conference with the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto. “That is fact.”
Immigrant advocates, long opposed to Mr. Trump’s proposals, were still taken aback by his ominous tone.
“Our national identity is anchored in the notion that we are a permanently evolving people, where the other becomes us and we are strengthened by it,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group. “Trump is taking dead aim at that idea. Immigrants are the other, he says, and the ‘us’ is a fearful group of white people.”
But some Latinos noted that Mr. Trump had not repeated his plan to deport all 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
“I didn’t love the rhetoric,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, a conservative group. He has endorsed Mr. Trump. “He is the only choice we have right now, considering the threats the nation is facing.”
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