In his State of the Union address last night, President Trump called on Congress to pass his “bipartisan approach to immigration reform,” which he called a “fair compromise.” But like his proposed immigration legislation, Trump’s remarks on immigration sounded like they came straight from activists who have been advocating for severe immigration restrictions—and, because the speech was written by White House aide Stephen Miller, they probably did.
Anti-immigration groups have been unhappy with the immigration deal that Trump has proposed because it offers a path to citizenship to more Dreamers than they would like and because they don’t think that it slows family-based immigration fast enough. But the plan is, in reality, a huge giveaway to a movement that has long advocated not just for crackdowns on undocumented immigrants but also for severe cutbacks of legal immigration, including further limiting the ability of immigrants to sponsor visas for members of their immediate families, which anti-immigration activists call “chain migration.”
Trump touted this part of his plan in his speech by claiming, absurdly, that his proposal “protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration.” Current law allows naturalized citizens to sponsor their spouses, children, parents and siblings, with some restrictions, and green-card holders to sponsor spouses and younger, unmarried children, with restrictions. These family reunification applications can take years to be processed. Trump’s plan would allow all immigrants to sponsor only spouses and minor children, which somehow he is claiming “protects the nuclear family.” Trump claimed that under the current system, “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” which is blatantly false.
Ending so-called “chain migration” has been a top priority of immigration restrictionists: NumbersUSA has been running ads warning that any “amnesty” for Dreamers will result in endless family trees of immigrants overrunning the country, while the head of the Center for Immigration Studies has said that his top priority in any DREAM Act deal is ending “chain migration.”
Trump also spoke of his plan to end the diversity visa lottery, which has become a prominent bogeyman of anti-immigration activists since a man reportedly in the country on this type of visa killed eight people in a terrorist attack in New York last year. The lottery was originally designed to aid Irish and Italian immigrants, but in recent years has become a key pathway for African immigrants coming to the U.S. The fact that the program has the word “diversity” in its name also hasn’t helped its reputation in the far-right. In his speech, Trump called the lottery “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people,” which is false.
Trump also linked undocumented immigrants to crime—a favorite trope of immigration opponents—inviting the families of two girls who had been killed by MS-13 gang members to the address and saying that his proposal would “finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country.”
But the clearest nod to the anti-immigrant movement in Trump’s speech may have been his declaration, in reference to the DREAM Act, that “Americans are dreamers too.” Several commentators compared the phrase to the “all lives matter” retort to “Black lives matter.” That sentiment, and the phrase itself, was lifted out of the anti-immigrant movement’s attempts to portray the DREAM Act as a measure that would give some the “American dream” at the expense of others.
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham used the phrase “Americans are dreamers too” while arguing against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on President Trump’s favorite program “Fox & Friends” last year, but variations on the phrase frequently appear in right-wing media. In a speech in November to The Remembrance Project, a group that calls itself a “voice for victims killed by illegal aliens” former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon pointed to a wall of photos of people The Remembrance Project says were killed by undocumented immigrants and said, “What gets me is, what about their dreams? Why are illegal aliens called Dreamers and not them?” He went on to wonder “how many DACA recipients” had killed people shown on the wall, adding, “They’re not all valedictorians, right?” In her anti-immigrant screed “Adios, America,” Ann Coulter declared that “the dream of many ‘Dreamers’ is to rob, assault, and murder Americans.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, for one, appreciated the line, tweeting, “Thank you President Trump. Americans are ‘Dreamers’ too.” Many of his fellow white nationalists also seem to have loved it.