By Lily Herman
On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump gave his first Oval Office address titled the “Address to the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security Crisis on our Southern Border.” What followed, however, was much of the racist and xenophobic rhetoric we’ve heard from Trump for the past three and a half years—including the false claims that undocumented immigrants as a whole are dangerous to the United States and that the only solution to questions over our border security is a $5 billion wall. Even worse, Trump’s address showcased that there’s likely no end in sight to the government shutdown that’s heading into its third week.
To recap, in late December Donald Trump said he would refuse to sign any spending bill from Congress that didn’t include over $5 billion to put towards building a wall at the southern U.S. border, effectively shutting down the U.S. government for the time being. (It’s also of note that there are already many areas with fortifications at the U.S.-Mexico border.)
The ripple effects are endless: Amidst all the talk about protecting U.S. borders, a large number of TSA agents are calling in sick due to working without pay, increasing safety risks in airports nationwide. More than 38 million Americans who rely on food stamps could see them reduced should the shutdown continue into next month. Tax refunds that many Americans rely on may be delayed. Native American communities are now using their own funds to cover their healthcare and food pantry expenses since government funding has stopped. College students can’t complete graduation requirements, employers can’t verify I-9 documentation, farmers don’t have access to the loans they need to start buying supplies for the spring, and more. With Trump and the Democrats holding their ground, there’s no telling when it’ll end.
What did Trump have to say about the wall? Well, Americans heard quite a few of the same lies that Trump has used for years:
“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”
As he’s done since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Trump cherry-picked uncited statistics and cases to illustrate his unproven belief that undocumented immigrants are synonymous with crime.
However, this notion that the U.S. is only crime-ridden because of undocumented immigrants is false. In fact, data from the Cato Institute looking at Texas, one of the states most affected by immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, found that native-born Americans are convicted of more crimes than undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants. In fact, undocumented immigrants had 50% fewer criminal convictions than native-born Americans. Moreover, recent academic scholarship highlights that states with more undocumented immigrants decisively have less violent crime.
“Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis…”
During the Democratic rebuttal delivered following Trump’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that much of the “crisis” at the southern border has been manufactured by Trump’s administration—and Democrats have largely been the ones scrambling to stop the disaster.
This includes their efforts to fix the administration’s abhorrent child separation policy, understand what led to nearly two dozen immigrants dying in ICE detention since Trump took office, come up with a solution to the administration’s ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and more.
“The federal government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security.”
Pelosi and Schumer also emphasized an obvious fact: On the first day that the 116th Congress was in session, House Democrats, who now hold the majority, passed government spending legislation that was nearly identical to what Senate Republicans passed at the tail-end of the 115th Congress. Due to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to put the bill up to a vote during the new 116th Congress, the bill hasn’t passed the Senate for a second time, dragging the shutdown to its current standstill.
That said, both parties are in agreement on one thing: The government shutdown should end while discussions and debate over what to do about border security continue. Donald Trump is the only person who doesn’t agree with that notion.
Moreover, the majority of Americans themselves aren’t buying Trump’s claim that the Democrats shoulder the blame for the current shutdown. An aggregation of recent polling on the issue found that 50% of Americans directly blame Trump for the shutdown, compared to just 35% who directly blame the Democrats.
The bottom line? There wasn’t any new information in Trump’s first Oval Office address; it was the same old racism and the same old xenophobia. And unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of livelihoods and millions of Americans will be affected for the time being. In a country where 80 percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck, every day could spell catastrophe.
Follow Lily Herman on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.