Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to Congress in which he attacked “chain migration” has been met with fierce criticism.
The US President said he wanted an end to the country's “broken" immigration system, which he falsely claimed allowed “unlimited numbers of distant relatives” to join immigrants who have settled in America.
Mr Trump faced boos by Democrats as he used his speech to lay out plans which he claimed would “protect the nuclear family” and keep out “truly evil people” by “limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children”.
Rabia Chaudry, a US immigration lawyer, accused Mr Trump of “lying” and pointed out that current law meant immigrants could sponsor children, spouses, parents and siblings, but not distant relatives.
Robert Reich, former Labour Secretary under President Bill Clinton, accused the 71-year-old of using “fear” to generate a “vicious cycle” of anger and violence.
“This country was built in large part by immigrants. Many were given a start on the road to success by family members already here. We called it "family reunification," not "chain migration,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Hebrew Immigration Aid Society branded Mr Trump’s remarks on immigration as “not the American way”, while the Anti-Defamation League, a charity which fights antisemitism, said “justice delayed for immigrant youth is justice denied”.
In his speech, Mr Trump did offer a “path to citizenship” for 1.8 million Dreamers – undocumented migrants brought to the US as children – but insisted his “sacred duty” was to “defend Americans”, adding, “Americans are dreamers too”.
The comment was praised by white nationalists.
Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who described the speech as “very powerful”, said: “Thank you President Trump. Americans are 'Dreamers' too.”
Richard Spencer, a prominent figure on the far right, tweeted the quote alongside a picture of a white family.
But the phrase was branded “intentionally divisive” by Topher Spiro, a senior fellow at progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, while others compared it to Republican attempts to draw attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement to focus on the slogan “all lives matter”.
So-called chain migration is the most common form of immigration to the US, making up 60 to 70 per cent of all legal immigration in the last decade.
Democrats argue the more accurate term is "family reunification," as the purpose of the policy is to bring families separated by immigration back together. More than 50,000 children of immigrants, and 85,000 parents, entered the US via family reunification last year.
Donald Trump's comments on immigration in full
Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.
For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They've allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.
Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island.
But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa's 16th birthday, such a happy time it should have been, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage MS-13 gang have been charged with Kayla and Nisa's murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal unaccompanied alien minors and wound up in Kayla and Nisa's high school.
Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert, tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you. Everyone in America is grieving for you. Please stand. Thank you very much.
I want you to know that 320 million hearts are right now breaking for you. We love you. Thank you. While we cannot imagine the depths of that kind of sorrow, we can make sure that other families never have to endure this kind of pain.
Tonight, I am calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminal gangs, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol agents — these are great people, these are great, great people that work so hard in the midst of such danger — so that this can never happen again.
The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country anywhere in the world to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers, and America's forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.
So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed.
My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too.
Here tonight is one leader in the effort to defend our country, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez. He goes by DJ. And CJ. He said call me either one. So we'll call you CJ.
Served 15 years in the Air Force before becoming an ICE agent and spending the last 15 years fighting gang violence and getting dangerous criminals off of our streets. Tough job. At one point, MS-13 leaders ordered CJ's murder, and they wanted it to happen quickly. But he did not cave to threats or to fear. Last May, he commanded an operation to track down gang members on Long Island. His team has arrested nearly 400, including more than 220 MS-13 gang members.
And I have to tell you what the Border Patrol and ICE have done. We have sent thousands and thousands and thousands of MS-13 horrible people out of this country or into our prisons. So I just want to congratulate you, CJ. You're a brave guy. Thank you very much.
And I asked CJ, what's the secret? He said, “We're just tougher than they are.” And I like that answer.
Now let's get Congress to send you — and all of the people in this great chamber have to do it, we have no choice — CJ, we're going to send you reinforcements and we're going to send them to you quickly. It's what you need.
Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate will be voting on an immigration reform package. In recent months, my administration has met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bipartisan approach to immigration reform. Based on these discussions, we presented Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise, one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs and must have.
Here are the four pillars of our plan. The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age. That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States over a 12-year period.
The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a great wall on the southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like CJ to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country, and it finally ends the horrible and dangerous practice of catch and release.
The third pillar ends the visa lottery, a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people. It's time to begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system, 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.
The fourth and final pillar protects 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.
This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security and for the future of America. 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 just no longer afford. It's time to reform ... these outdated immigration rules and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.
These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise and one that will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system. For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen.
Most importantly, these four pillars will produce legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to sign a bill that puts America first. So let's come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done.
These reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction. Never before has it been like it is now. It is terrible. We have to do something about it.
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