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“A Racist, Xenophobic Attack”: Immigrant Rights Activist Decries Trump Remarks About Southern Border

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President Donald Trump addressed the nation Tuesday night in his first prime-time speech from the Oval Office. He urged Congress to approve $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but he opted not to declare a national emergency to force construction of the wall, in a xenophobic speech riddled with falsehoods. We speak with Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas, an immigrant rights group based in Chicago.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Donald Trump addressed the nation Tuesday night in his first prime-time speech from the Oval Office. He urged Congress to approve $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but he opted not to declare a national emergency to force construction of that wall.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.

In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now. This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.

AMY GOODMAN: Fact checkers disputed key aspects of President Trump’s claims, which he often repeats.

On the drug front, the spike in overdoses is directly linked to the rising use of the opioid fentanyl, which largely comes from China, not the southern border. CNN reports U.S. government data shows most of the hard narcotics seized by Customs and Border Protection comes at legal ports of entry, not from people trying to secretly cross the southern border.

Trump’s comments on violent immigrants failed to note numerous studies that show immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than U.S.-born citizens.

President Trump went on to blame Democrats for the partial government shutdown, which entered its 19th day today.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security. My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation. But the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: After Trump spoke, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the Democrats’ response.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: The fact is, the women and children at the border are not a security threat. They are a humanitarian challenge, a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened. And the fact is, President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must reopen the government.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: The president of the United States, having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill, has shut down the government.

American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans, who are treated as leverage.

AMY GOODMAN: As the partial government shutdown extends into its 19th day and will soon become the longest shutdown in history if it continues, Border Patrol and TSA agents are being forced to work without pay.

To talk more about President Trump’s Oval Office address, we’re joined by Oscar Chacón. He’s the executive director of Alianza Americas, an immigrant rights group based in Chicago.

Oscar, well, I’m sure you sat down and watched the, what, 9-, 10-minute speech of President Trump, where nothing he announced was new—and actually, overnight, The New York Times reported he didn’t even want to give the speech, because he recognized that nothing he said was new and he wouldn’t convince anyone else—but repeated—and because every network agreed to broadcast this live, every major corporate network—repeated falsehood after falsehood about immigrants and about what’s happening at the southern border. Can you talk about this speech?

OSCAR CHACÓN: Absolutely. First of all, good morning and happy New Year to both of you, Amy and Juan.

Clearly, the speech last night was a repetition of the very lies that this man, Donald Trump, the U.S. president, has been saying since the moment he announced that he was going to be running for president. So, what I saw in the speech last night was, again, a coming back, in some ways, you know, with even worse lies than before, of the same racist, xenophobic attack, very much adding insult to injury. Let’s remember that this is the president that has been systematically attacking immigrants, attacking refugees, using lies to try to make his case.

And I’m not surprised to hear that he was reluctant to make this speech, because, in retrospective, they may come to regret the fact that he delivered this speech, which, as you said, and I agree, did not convince anybody about the merits of what this president is asking.

Clearly, in my view, he was trying to use the very many failures of U.S. policy over many years, to actually use it as justification to build a wall that anybody with a sense of respect for data, a sense of respect for evidence, would agree, you know, does not do anything inasfar as solving problems, some of which may be legitimate. For example, I mean, the drug trafficking problem and the fact that there are a lot of people indeed dying in the U.S. as a result of drug trafficking has nothing to do with the presence of immigrants in the U.S.

And I believe that unless we are clearly in agreement that these are basically lies, supported more than anything else by prejudice, namely racism and xenophobia, we are not going to ever be able to get solutions to what is really a problem, which is the humanitarian crisis we are facing, where this president is clearly wanting to violate existing law, U.S. law and international law, when it comes to acknowledging the right that people have to seek asylum when their own countries have failed them inasfar as protecting them and providing them a way of life that is decent and secure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Oscar, I wanted to ask you—even the basic premise that the president has repeatedly said, that there’s a crisis at the border, when, as you say, the facts, if—anyone who studies the facts knows that apprehensions at the border by the Border Patrol are near all-time lows. Back in 2000, there were 1.6 million people being apprehended at the border. And for fiscal 2018, it was less than 400,000. One-quarter of the number were apprehended last year than were apprehended back in 2000. So there’s been a plummeting, a sharp decline, in the apprehensions. The difference is that many of the apprehensions now are not of single men looking for work but are of families, of children, so that the system is not geared to handling and detaining families and children as it was previously when it was largely single men coming for work. I’m wondering your thoughts about this idea that there is a crisis at the border.

OSCAR CHACÓN: Well, this is a classical case of trying to provide a medicine for an illness that does not exist. I mean, this is exactly what this particular approach by this president is all about.

But keep in mind that from a strategy point of view, what this president is trying to do is to indeed get away with getting money for a wall that we don’t need, you know, and it would be an outright waste of taxpayers’ money to put any money into it, but what he is really trying to do is to then, if he gets away with this, then say that the problem is not really the border, but that the problem is people coming into the country in every other way. Because in the end, keep in mind, this is an administration that, when it comes to immigration and foreign nationals, is driven by two principles. One is, let’s eliminate any possibility for people coming into the U.S. And number two, let’s eject from this country people that we deem undesirable. This is what this president is really seeking to do.

And again, he is using a false crisis. I repeat, the only crisis we really have is a crisis that results from the lack of respect for these people who are fleeing their own countries to be able to come into the U.S. and apply for political asylum and be given a fair hearing on the merits of their asylum cases. That is the crisis that we have, that is affecting children, families. And again, this president is simply ignoring this.

Last night, the speech was a clear case of ignoring entirely what the problem really is, which he is actually causing or making worse, because—in fairness, it did not begin with this president. It goes back several years, but, clearly, he is making it a lot worse.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, I wanted to ask you about this issue of the cost of this wall that he wants to build, $5.7 billion. The reports I’ve seen show that this is for 234 miles of a wall. My rough math of that shows that this wall would cost about $6,000 per foot across the border. It’s an enormous expenditure for a very small portion of the border. So, even the mathematics of it don’t seem to make sense.

OSCAR CHACÓN: No, you are correct. I mean, frankly—and this is why I emphasize that this is simply one piece, one element, in a larger strategy that this administration is pursuing. I am happy to see the Democrats finally seem to be growing a strong backbone, and I hope they find the wisdom also to oppose very clearly this particular attempt on the president to again continue in a strategy that ultimately seeks to basically seal us from any foreigners coming in and make us basically able to eject out of the country people they deem undesirable.

It is important to understand that if he were really serious about building a wall, $5.7 billion is really a joke. You would need literally hundreds of billions of dollars to build the kind of wall that he promised he would build and that he also promised that Mexico would pay for it. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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Bernie Sanders Responds to Trump’s Border Wall Address, Debunking President’s Lies About Immigration

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