Trump weaves immigration through speech to Joint Session of Congress

Mexico / US Pacific Ocean Border Fence, Border Field State Park / Imperial Beach, San Diego, California. (Photo Credit: Tony Webster via Flickr Creative Commons)

In his speech before a Joint Session of Congress Tuesday night, President Donald Trump kept immigration enforcement front and center, framing it as a law and order approach. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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President Trump wove immigration through his speech, tying the issue to unemployment and depressed wages, to drugs and to taxes. He vowed that work will soon begin to greatly expand the wall along the country‘s border with Mexico. But when he tied immigration to a new government agency to support victims of violent crime, he drew audible gasps from the audience.

“And we must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims,” Trump said. “The office is called VOICE – Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas is founder and CEO of Define American. He was one of the undocumented immigrants in attendance in the House chamber of the United States Capitol during the speech.

“This is a new office that in some ways is going to make ICE agents out of any person in America who feels maybe attacked, fearful or whatever way they feel about undocumented people – or people they perceive to be undocumented – in their communities,” Vargas said.

In a memo announcing the new office DHS Secretary John Kelly ordered ICE to immediately divert all money “currently used to advocate on behalf of illegal aliens” to fund the new office.

Trump also called for immigration reform. But rather than expand visa opportunities for low-skilled workers to find work legally, he suggested adopting what he called a merit-based immigration system. If recently introduced legislation known as the RAISE Act is any indication, the type of reform the president is advocating will come at the expense of family-chain migration, in which legal immigrants are able to sponsor visas for close relatives.

Marta Zavala Perez is a college professor, and a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She says that the so-called merit-based system inherently locks out people who are undocumented, with the exception of DACA recipients who are able to establish legally-permitted work histories.

“We need to deal with facts. It’s very easy to say, ‘We’ll just do it the right way.’ What is the right way? Because if you actually look at immigration law, there is no legal way to enter this country at this point,” Perez points out. “There is no way for my mother, for my father to search for a future in this country. And that’s not because they don’t want to, that’s not because they don’t contribute. That is because the current law, the current framework, does not allow for it.”

Perez is among a growing number DACA recipients who opt to use their quasi-legal status to speak out on behalf of immigrants without authorization.

The RAISE Act, formally called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, was introduced in the Senate earlier this month. The measure redefines “close relatives” as children and spouse only, removing provisions for parents. It also caps the number of refugees the president can admit to the country in any given year at 50,000, and eliminates the Diversity Visa program, under which from countries with historically low levels of immigration could legally enter the United States.

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