Trump’s Immigration Proposal During State of the Union Prompts Criticism

President Donald Trump’s first state of the union address went a lot like most people probably thought it would. He called for greater border security, spoke of building big beautiful things and Democrats hated nearly every moment of it.

The commander in chief spoke for over one hour and twenty minutes—the longest since Bill Clinton’s speech in 2000—often leading his own applause, as he touted his recently passed tax reform package and pledged to bring together both sides of the political aisle to work as one body for the country.

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“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said in his opening remarks.

Whether it was what he said—prefacing a portion of his speech centered on immigration by referencing MS-13 gang violence—or the things he didn’t mention at all, like climate change, the MeToo movement that has touched virtually all sectors of the country in the past year, and the refusal by the White House to impose bipartisan approved sanctions on Russia, those on the left saw openings for critique.

Congressman Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat who represents California’s 47th District which includes Long Beach, wore all black to the state of the union to support victims of sexual assault and harassment. And like many other members of Congress, his guest for the speech was a Dreamer, a person protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals law put into action by President Barack Obama and then rescinded by Trump after he took office last year.

Lowenthal said he contemplated not attending but thought it was the right thing to do to show up, clap when he felt appropriate, but most of all, be present as the president was a guest in the house that he works out of. He reached back to his days as a teacher and rated the president’s speech as a C minus, noting that it lacked substance or solid plans for how to move forward.

“It was bland, he introduced a lot of people, he took credit for all the positive things in the economy,” Lowenthal said. “And it is true, the economy is humming at a nice level, but it was humming before he came into office. We’ve averaged over two million jobs for the last five years, and it is true that it’s continued to hum and I do give him credit for talking about that.”

But to what end a bipartisan healing process could be underway as the president called for unity is unclear. Another federal shutdown is looming and immigration will likely be a bargaining chip for both parties as Congress tries to avoid a second shutdown in four weeks.

The president outlined his hopes for an immigration overhaul last night, which he said should end “chain-migration”, ends the visa lottery program and replaces it with what he called merit-based immigration, funds a wall at the southern border with Mexico but also offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people currently in the country illegally. Trump closed his policy outline by linking the visa lottery system to terrorism.

Funding the wall is not a non-starter for the Democrats in exchange for a resolution on DACA as Lowenthal said his house colleagues had previously pledged to do just that. However, that deal was ultimately shot down.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding immigration, Luis Flores, Lowenthal’s guest for Tuesday night’s state of the union says he is optimistic that a deal will be reached. Flores is a senior at Cal State Long Beach and is a political science major.

“I feel that there is going to be something as we’ve seen in recent weeks that there is strong support from both sides of government here, there’s bipartisan support, national support from CEOs and tech leaders,” Flores said on the efforts to reach an immigration deal. “We’ve received a lot of support on this effort, so whether it happens on February 8 or by March 5, I don’t know when it will be, but I’m pretty confident something will happen pretty soon. We just hope it’s the best piece of legislation we can get.”

Despite his optimism for a DACA deal, Flores added that the proposed framework would still leave out millions of people who didn’t qualify for DACA, including the parents of children who would remain undocumented even if congress provides a path to citizenship for their children.

With another vote needed to extend funding for the federal government looming next week, Democrats and Republicans will have to hit the negotiating table hard in the next few days if they hope to craft a law that can receive the president’s signature. But based on the president’s outline of what he expects, both sides likely face an uphill battle toward a compromise.

“We want to protect the Dreamers, we like the idea of having 1.8 million, that we like,” Lowenthal said. “But we also have real problems with some of the issues that he said. Ending the visa lottery, moving toward a merit based system…you can’t just summarily, in one week, without having discussions on this, change US immigration policy that has been the cornerstone since the beginning of the 20th Century.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.