Speaking from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump said that Americans were facing “a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice” in regards to immigration policy and humanitarian concerns at the southern U.S. border.
While “America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation,” uncontrolled illegal immigration was hurting the country as well as many hopeful migrants, Trump said in his eight-minute address.
The president’s speech, delivered and broadcast live on Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. EST, was his first prime-time address. It was directly followed by a shorter retort from Democrat legislators Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who are respectively Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and Minority Leader of the Senate.
Elected in 2016 on a platform of “America First,” Trump has long pushed for stronger border security, which he considers one of the country’s prime concerns. In his speech, Trump spoke of the need to urgently reduce illegal border crossings, find ways to humanely and efficiently return illegal migrants to their home countries, and fund his proposal for a border wall.
“Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War,” Trump said.
Trump in his address said that apart from the border wall, his administration “has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers.”
“All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration,” Trump said. “It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”
The border wall is among the biggest of Trump’s campaign promises — a proposition strongly opposed by Democrats as ineffective and “immoral.” Due to disagreements over whether the new U.S. budget should include funding for the wall, the federal government has been in partial shutdown since Dec. 22.
Crisis or challenge?
Rep. Pelosi, of California, criticized Trump for not supporting a bipartisan bill that would re-open government while still providing for border security in other forms. She said Trump’s actions amount to holding “hostage critical services for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people,” as well as delaying pay for hundreds of thousands of government workers.
Sen. Schumer, from New York, said that Trump was using Americans as “leverage” to secure funding for the wall, and that the president was using “the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
“The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall,” he said.
“Women and children at the border are not a security threat,” said Pelosi. “They are a humanitarian challenge — a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened.”
Citing figures and reports from U.S. border control authorities, Trump said that not only were illegal immigrants responsible for many counts of violent crime, but were often victims of crimes themselves in their attempts to cross into America.
“Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs,” he said. “One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”
Apart from the president’s Democratic opposition, mainstream media outlets also criticized Trump’s address.
CNN called the speech “formal stagecraft” and said that it “did little” to bring the wall “any closer to construction,” or resolve the government shutdown. Jimmy Kimmel, a late-night television host for ABC Television, said that “rarely does a president of the United States interrupt primetime television to warn us about a completely made-up thing.”
Trump is determined to pass a budget that would provide at least US$5 billion for the construction of a border wall. Democrat legislators are requesting a budget that would allow US$1.3 billion for overall border security upgrades.
In various statements made to the media and via Twitter, Trump has accused the Democrats of refusing to support the wall, not out of genuine concern for its effectiveness or ethical principles, but so as to prevent him from fulfilling his campaign promises.
Mark Morgan, an ex-FBI agent who served the Obama administration, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that physical barriers “absolutely work.”
“If you look in the past, you don’t have to go too far back in history, that bipartisan legislation that was passed, the Secure Fence Act in 2006 and 2012, bipartisan legislation passed where they built the wall or fence or physical barrier, whatever you want to call it, it’s a wall. It works,” Morgan said.