Trump tackles immigration in State of the Union, but not everyone agrees with his facts

President Donald Trump applauds as he finishes his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington.
President Donald Trump applauds as he finishes his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington. AP

As some two dozen invited DREAMers listened in the Capitol for President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, he mentioned “Dreamers” but he wasn’t referring directly to them.

Instead, his “four pillars” portion of his address on immigration used the word “Dreamers” in the context of all Americans.

“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,” Trump said.

In his address, Trump publicly endorsed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, which is more than the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children with their families and call themselves DREAMers.

“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,” Trump said.

In exchange, however, Trump called for “building a great wall on the Southern border.” He also advocated ending the visa lottery and replacing it with a merit-based system, and limiting longstanding American programs in which green card holders and U.S. citizens can sponsor family members to come here. He wants to limit sponsorships to spouses and minor children.

Trump cast his proposal as a compromise necessary to enact broader immigration changes. He said his four-pillar plan is one “where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”

Fact-checkers, however, took issue with how Trump characterized the visa lottery and family immigration programs, which he dubbed “chain migration.”

Trump said the visa lottery “randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people.”

The New York Times, and the Washington Post fact-checkers, said this characterization was not accurate.

According to the Times’ reporting, the visa lottery provides 50,000 immigrant visas to people from countries with low immigration rates to the United States. An 18-page guide from the State Department says applicants must have a high school education or two years of work experience in the past five years that requires “two years of training or experience.”

The applicant must undergo a medical exam and cannot have a criminal record. Visa winners are then subjected to a lengthy background check that can last for months.

On U.S. citizens or green-card holders sponsoring their family members, Trump stated that “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

That’s not how the program works.

According to the New York Times’ fact-checkers, immigrants who gain their green cards or are legal U.S. citizens can petition to bring in their relatives. But it’s a lengthy and arduous process that requires national security and criminal background checks.

And the system, the Times noted, is “badly backlogged.’’ As of Nov. 1, nearly 4 million people were waiting to have their claims processed. In fact, some siblings of immigrants were just getting a visa from petitions filed in 2004 — nearly 14 years ago.

trump gestures
President Donald Trump gestures at the end of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Susan Walsh AP

While Trump was detailing his immigration plan, the camera panned to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

Wednesday morning, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) tweeted her concerns over the president’s use of the word “illegals” to describe DREAMers. The language, she said, only hurts negotiations. “The author of ‘The Art of the Deal’ should keep his focus on results,” she posted.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, boycotted the State of the Union and watched the speech on TV Tuesday night with constituents at Overtown’s Greater Bethel AME Church. ““Nothing he says tonight will come true. Nothing,” she said.

In the Democrats’ response after the State of the Union, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, addressed the DREAMers:

“You are part of our story,” he said. “We will fight for you. And we will not walk away.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, issued a statement following the address, touting the president’s comments that “the state of the union is strong.” He briefly mentioned immigration at the end.

“There is still much work to be done, and the president laid out a clear agenda tonight with an open hand toward bipartisan cooperation. By working together to rebuild our nation’s military, boost infrastructure, develop our workforce, and fix our immigration system, we can continue making America safer and stronger for the 21st century,” Ryan said.

Follow @HowardCohen

Related stories from Miami Herald