Local immigrant rights advocates gathered to watch President Donald Trump speak Tuesday night in support of funding a southern border wall but said they were dismayed by rhetoric aimed to divide communities of color.
“He said that immigrants and refugees that are trying to come to this country are hurting African-American communities and Hispanics who already live here, and to me that was just such a transparent attempt to try to divide,” Casa Latina Executive Director Marcos Martinez said.
Martinez was referring to a part of the speech in which the president stated, “America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African Americans and Hispanic Americans.”
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Members of Casa Latina, Social Justice Fund Northwest, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, and the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network watched President Trump address the nation from a TV in Casa Latina. They were dismayed when they heard the president describe crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally as part of the reason a wall was needed.
“America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien, who just came across the border,” Trump said.
“To use that pain to create an argument to detain children is unfair,” Monserrat Padilla, coordinator for the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, said.
Palmira Figueroa, from Social Justice Fund NW, said she volunteers with families separated at the border and felt the stories of many, including children, who were suffering while detained, were not told.
Padilla said she had hoped to hear more about a comprehensive immigration plan from the president, including a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, undocumented young people who came to the country while children.
“What we would hope from this president is a direct plan on how he hopes to pass immigration reform where border security is addressed-- where no more money is added to internment or enforcement and where there's an active plan to strengthen our legal immigration system,” Padilla said.
At the center of the shutdown is the fight over $5.7 billion to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of employees at federal agencies have been furloughed or are working without pay.
Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Jorge Baron, said that while there is a lot of focus on the wall, he wants people to think about the other immigration policies the administration is implementing.
“There are asylum seekers on the other side of the border who are being prevented from being able to exercise the right to seek asylum in the U.S.,” he said. “The administration is preventing them from being able to actually present themselves to the immigration authorities, which is what they've told people to do.”
On Tuesday, Trump made the case that a wall is needed to address the security crisis at the southern border.
“This barrier is absolutely critical to border security,” the president said. “It's also what our professionals at the border want and need. It's just common sense. The border wall would very quickly pay for itself.”
But Baron dismissed the idea of a security crisis there.
“I do think there is a crisis at the border, but it's a crisis— a humanitarian crisis that's been created by the administration,” Baron said.
© 2019 Cox Media Group.