Donald Trump or Bill Clinton? Sometimes It’s Hard to Tell on Immigration
President's tough rhetoric at first State of the Union address has nothing on some of the 1990s speeches by another chief executive
The president used his State of the Union address to warn Americans of the economic threat posed by illegal immigration and to call for a crackdown, painting the job-seeking migrants in stark terms.
“The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers,” he said. “That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.”
Donald Trump in 2018? Try Bill Clinton in 1995.
Clinton sounded downright Trumpian at times on that January evening 23 years ago. He promised Congress that his proposed budget for the coming year would contain recommendations for speeding up deportations.
"It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it," he said.
Like Clinton, Trump on Tuesday asked Congress to hire more Border Patrol officers. Like Clinton, he noted the competition for jobs posed by illegal immigrants. And like Clinton, he connected immigration to national security.
"For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities," Trump said. "They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against some of the poorest Americans."
Clinton's remarks during that 1995 address have gotten a great deal of attention during the last two years, with immigration hawks passing clips across the Internet. But it was not just 1995. Clinton sounded the alarm over mass immigration during several of his addresses to Congress.
Lines from some of those speeches easily could have been delivered by Trump.
Clinton in 1996: "After years of neglect, this administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders." He called for increasing border controls by 50 percent and pledged to sign an executive order denying federal contracts to businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
Trump on Tuesday: "Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families."
Clinton in 2000: "Stricter border enforcement will help combat illegal drugs. And as government works to better secure our homeland, America will continue to depend on the eyes and ears of alert citizens."
Trump on Tuesday: "Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes and our laws to enter the country as illegal, unaccompanied, alien minors."
Clinton in 1999: "We have a responsibility to make them [legal immigrants] welcome here, and they have a responsibility to enter the mainstream of American life. That means learning English and learning about our democratic system of government."
Trump on Tuesday: "My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the American Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) told LifeZette that Clinton's 1990s-era rhetoric is a reflection of the fact that Democrats used to at least "pay lip service" to stopping illegal immigration.
"They're not even willing to pretend anymore," he said.