President Trump didn’t reveal in his Tuesday night State of the Union address whether he’s planning to declare a national emergency in order to secure funds for a border wall, but stressed that Congress has to “show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”
In an interview with CBS aired over the weekend, Trump said “we’re going to have to see what happens on Feb. 15,” the appropriations deadline, when asked whether he’d shut down the government again over the border funding impasse.
“I don’t take anything off the table. I don’t like to take things off the table. It’s that alternative. It’s national emergency, it’s other things and you know there have been plenty national emergencies called,” he said.
In his annual address to a joint session of Congress, Trump warned that “as we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States” and said he’s “ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught.”
“This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well-being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally,” he continued. “Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.”
Trump further charged that “wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards” and declared “tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate — it is cruel.”
Among the administration’s guests at the State of the Union were three relatives of Jerry and Sherri David, a couple killed in their Reno, Nev., home in January. Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, 20, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, has been charged with those slayings and the murders of Connie Koontz and Sophia Renken.
Another guest recognized by the president was Elvin Hernandez, a special agent with the Trafficking in Persons Unit of the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations division.
“When Elvin was a boy, he and his family legally immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. At the age of eight, Elvin told his dad he wanted to become a special agent. Today, he leads investigations into the scourge of international sex trafficking. Elvin says: ‘If I can make sure these young girls get their justice, I’ve done my job.’ Thanks to his work and that of his colleagues, more than 300 women and girls have been rescued from horror and more than 1,500 sadistic traffickers have been put behind bars in the last year,” Trump said, adding, “We will always support the brave men and women of Law Enforcement — and I pledge to you tonight that we will never abolish our heroes from ICE.”
“My administration has sent to the Congress a common-sense proposal to end the crisis on our southern border,” the president continued. “It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry. In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built.”
“This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down.”
In the official Democratic response to Trump’s speech, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said that “bipartisanship could craft a 21st-century immigration plan but this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart.”
“Compassionate treatment at the border is not the same as open borders,” Abrams said. “President Reagan understood this. President Obama understood this. Americans understand this and Democrats stand ready to effectively secure our ports and borders but we must all embrace that from agriculture to healthcare to entrepreneurship America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants, not walls.”
In a separate statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it “will take days to fact-check all the misrepresentations that the president made tonight” in his wide-ranging address.
“Instead of fear-mongering and manufacturing a crisis at the border, President Trump should commit to signing the bipartisan conference committee’s bill to keep government open and provide strong, smart border security solutions,” Pelosi said.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was noncommittal about whether he would support a national emergency declaration, which would raid military construction coffers for border wall funding. A resolution of disapproval to block the declaration, which would also likely quickly end up in court, would need just four GOP defections to pass.
“We don’t know what route the president is going to take so I’m not going to speculate on it at this point,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “As you know, it is an expedited procedure with a simple majority and there is some time delay associated with it, assuming it comes over from the House. But I’m going to withhold judgment about that until we see what he does.”