President Donald Trump‘s signal of a new openness to immigration reform in a speech to the U.S. Congress did little to win over Democrats who would be essential to revamping the nation’s immigration laws.
Any goodwill Trump may have sparked with his mention of a chance for “real and positive immigration reform” in Tuesday’s speech, his first to a joint session of Congress, was soon dashed by rhetoric that Democrats said tarred and misrepresented most immigrants.
“The speech he gave was one of the most anti-immigrant speeches that we heard any president ever give,” Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said on Wednesday.
What offended Democrats, a minority in both chambers, was Trump’s reference to past incidents in which one illegal immigrant “viciously gunned down” two California law enforcement officers and another “viciously murdered” a 17-year-old boy.
Trump built a base of support for his 2016 presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration, including a pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. On becoming president in January, he immediately issued a temporary visa ban against seven Muslim-majority countries, later blocked by federal courts. He also suspended a refugee program and initiated tougher deportation procedures.
Major immigration reform efforts failed in Congress under Trump’s predecessors, Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, because of deep divisions among lawmakers and Americans over the issue.
The challenges include how to protect illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, and how to deal long-term with the estimated 11 million people living in the country without proper documentation.
Legislation putting illegal immigrants in line for citizenship threatens to alienate Trump’s core conservative voters.
Trump said in his speech that reform was possible if both Democrats and Republicans were willing to compromise.