The most misleading line in Donald Trump’s State of the Union address this week might have also been the most revealing about how he is reconfiguring the Republican Party and reshaping America’s electoral alignment.
“Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways,” he declared at one point. “I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”
Trump ad-libbed the part about “the largest numbers ever,” but even the base claim—that he supports legal immigration—radically rewrites his record. Trump just last year supported legislation from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that would have cut legal immigration by more than 40 percent—the largest reduction since the 1920s, according to a study from the libertarian Cato Institute. If that bill had been put in place in 1965, when Congress revised the nation’s immigration laws, it would have blocked nearly three-fifths of all the immigrants the nation has admitted since then, the study’s author, David Bier, calculated.
Though Grassley’s bill failed last year in the Republican-controlled Senate, and a companion measure died in the GOP House, Trump has used, in the meantime, almost every administrative tool at his disposal to create more hurdles for legal immigrants. “The idea that the administration is trying to increase legal immigration, or allow more of it, is just totally contrary to every proposal that they have put out here,” Bier said in an interview. Trump was so determined to restrict legal immigration, he rejected a deal accepted by virtually every Senate Democrat that would have provided him with $25 billion for his border wall in return for a pathway to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers, the young people brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents.