Thoughts on the joint session of Congress

In the President’s address to Congress I heard a campaign-style speech, some of which had points for broad agreement from the Congress: supporting the military, law enforcement and veterans; investing in infrastructure; and protecting civil rights. Good sentiment, no details and non controversial.

But the heart of the speech was a celebration of nativism and protectionism couched as patriotism. Fear of the rest of the world and vilification of immigrants sold as security and public safety.

Describing our homeland security policy as: “leaving our borders wide open for anyone to cross” is a perfect example. We have 600 miles of walls and fences. We’ve doubled the size of the Border Patrol in the last 15 years. We’re spending 10 times more on border security ($19.5 billion) than we did 25 years ago. We have the lowest levels of north-bound apprehensions; and those we are apprehending are for the most part economic migrants, families trying to unite with loved ones and children fleeing for their lives from the deadliest countries in the world.

We will always have threats unique to our border, including human smuggling and drug trafficking. Thanks to Border Patrol, Customs and ICE we combat these challenges every day and have helped contribute to the safety of our community, our state and our country.

Coming from the safest city in the country, at a time that the border has never been more secure, our borders are definitely not “wide open.”

In another passage the president quoted Lincoln to advocate for protectionism against trade from the rest of the world. I can agree with smarter trade agreements, fairer trade agreements, but when we start raising tariffs against products from the rest of the world then the rest of the world raises tariffs against us. The things that we produce and manufacture become more expensive and less competitive in foreign markets; that means fewer, not more, jobs in high-skill, high-wage export manufacturing and services.

This was related to other moments in the speech essentially questioning America’s commitment to the international order that we’ve done so much to win (World War II), secure (Cold War) and expand (post-Cold War). We can give all of that up — but a world dominated by disconnection, with former allies and trading partners who have thrown up massive trade barriers and no longer come to each others’ mutual defense is not a safe nor a prosperous world for the United States.

Lastly, and most disturbingly was this passage:

“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called Voice, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.”

Any violent crime and any murder is cause for concern. And certainly no undocumented immigrant who has committed a serious crime should remain in this country or be allowed to re-enter this country.

But we should remember that immigrants — documented and undocumented — commit crimes at lower levels than the native-born U.S. citizen population. This is not about public safety or fighting the “special interests” that he claims have covered up immigrant crimes.

This is part of a larger pattern of referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists”, of claiming a Mexican-American judge is unable to do his job because of his heritage and of constantly stoking anxiety and fear about Mexicans, immigrants and the border with Mexico.

Unfortunately this President takes another step into a dark world of fear, isolation and separation. Up to us to decide if we will follow.