President Trump argued on Tuesday that America's immigrants would actually benefit from the additional legal immigration restrictions he has asked Congress to consider as part of a deal to codify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a deal he described as a "fair compromise" while addressing both chambers of Congress.
"Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families," he said Tuesday during his first State of the Union address.
"For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans," Trump said. "Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives."
Trump laid out the four pillars his White House has said any immigration deal must include, arguing the agreement should include a pathway to citizenship for DACA-eligible undocumented immigrants, border security, ending the visa lottery program and limiting family-based migration.
"Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate will be voting on an immigration reform package," he said.
Trump noted his aides have "met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans" to work toward a deal that could pass a divided Congress.
"Based on these discussions, we presented the Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise — one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs," Trump said.
Few Democratic lawmakers in the House chamber on Tuesday appeared receptive to the agreement Trump described during his annual address, in what was perhaps a sign of the uphill battle the White House and Republicans must fight to gain the minority's support for an immigration reform deal.
Their greatest objections appeared to come when Trump mentioned the restrictions his plan would place on the ability for immigrants who obtain legal status to sponsor members of their family to come to the U.S.
"Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives," Trump said. "Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children. This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security, and our future."
Trump said the limits on family-based migration would "finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century."
"Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country," Trump said. "We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol agents, so that this cannot ever happen again."
A number of Democrats in the House chamber groaned openly when Trump began speaking about the need to remove undocumented gang members from the country. But they fell silent when Trump turned his attention to the two fathers and two mothers whose children were killed by gang members in the country illegally.
"Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa's 16th birthday, neither of them came home," the president said.
"These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown," he said. "Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa's murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors — and wound up in Kayla and Nisa's high school."
Trump told the parents sitting among the guests the White House invited to view the speech in the first lady's box that "320 million hearts are breaking for you."
The president called on lawmakers to work across the aisle to pass immigration reform — a tall order considering the partisan animus that has surrounded immigration talks over the past month.
"So tonight I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, color, and creed," Trump said.
Trump announced in September that he planned to wind down DACA by March, giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative alternative to the Obama-era program. DACA shielded from deportation roughly 690,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.
Democrats fought to attach DACA protections to a short-term spending bill earlier this month in a legislative battle that ultimately led to a government shutdown when the spending legislation failed in the Senate.
The White House began rolling out the framework for Trump’s immigration plan last week amid calls from lawmakers to move quickly on a Republican Senate leadership promise to extend expiring protections for young, undocumented immigrants.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised Senate Democrats a fair and open debate on DACA legislation in exchange for their votes on a spending deal that reopened the government last week.
To the dismay of some immigration hawks within the GOP, Trump’s plan proposed creating a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. That number included everyone presently eligible for DACA — not just those who enrolled in the program. Democrats, however, have already expressed an unwillingness to agree to the limitations on legal immigration that the White House said should accompany its DACA proposal.