'It’s going to blow up in his face': Trump fans are losing it after the president promises to increase legal immigration

'It’s going to blow up in his face': Trump fans are losing it after the president promises to increase legal immigration
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead/Gage Skidmore

In a bizarre moment during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump made a declaration that he has never made before:

Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.

Though the speech was pre-written, the phrase "in the largest numbers ever" — which completely changes the meaning of the sentence — was ad-libbed by the president in real time.

Many fact-checkers immediately dinged the president for this claim, noting that his administration has stood behind legislation that would drastically cut legal immigration. In fact, Trump a year ago rejected a massive deal over immigration that would have secured his central promise of a U.S.-Mexico border wall in exchange for a deal on dreamers, undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors, because Democrats refused to agree to cuts in legal immigration. Two of the "four pillars" for immigration reform that Trump laid out in his 2018 State of the Union address were large cuts to legal immigration.

But on Wednesday, Trump doubled down on his claim about increasing legal immigration

“Yes, because we need people in our country because our unemployment numbers are so low,” he said, according to reporter Bryn Stole. Asked if he really wanted more immigration, he reaffirmed: "I need people coming in because we need people to run factories and plants that are moving back in. We need people."

Trump can change his mind as soon as the wind changes direction, so there's no telling if this will be a lasting alteration in his policy views — but it has spooked some of his most enthusiastic supporters who backed him largely because of his anti-immigrant stance.

Ann Coulter, a bigoted anti-immigrant writer, criticized the president's rhetoric for attacking "illegal immigration" while praising "legal immigration."

"Yes, and Trump believes the laws of supply and demand are suspended when it comes to legal immigrants," she said in response to the speech, falsely implying that immigrants reduce compete for a set pool of job openings without also creating demand for new jobs.

"Stacy Abrams lost by 45,000 votes... that’s the same number of legal immigrants that come to the U.S. every 2.5 weeks. 70% of them will be voting Democrat. If Trump wants to increase that, it doesn’t matter how good his speech is, he won’t win re-election," said conservative writer Ryan Girdusky.

After the speech, Breitbart ran an article under the headline: "WAT? TRUMP BOASTS ABOUT RISING WAGES—BUT WANTS MOST IMMIGRANTS EVER?" The article by Neil Munro the accompanied the headline had a somewhat more sober tone, but it still spread bogus attacks on immigrants, warning that the president was letting the working class down: "Trump was a New York builder and real estate investor who lived and breathed the law of supply and demand. He knows that more legal — or illegal — migrants will depress Americans’ wages and spike housing costs before the 2020 election." It suggested that Trump might be boosting pro-legal immigration rhetoric to triangulate ahead of the 2020 race.

Others predicted doom for the president if he follows a pro-immigration path.

“If the White House follows through on this it’s going to blow up in his face,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director at the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, told Bloomberg. “The president has said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his base would stay with him, and that’s probably true. But this is one thing that he won’t be able to get away with.”

It's not at all clear Krikorian is correct. Trump's base dislikes immigrants, to be sure, but it's also clear that they value his aggressive tone on immigration, perhaps more than any particular policy. And for Trump fans, there were still plenty of anti-immigrant lies in his speech and the demonization of caravans coming to seek asylum (which is, for what it's worth, a legal form of immigration.) Though immigration hardliners make up a substantial portion of Trump's most prominent supporters, it's far from obvious that his actual voters pay much attention to them.


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