Trump's vulgarity overshadows shift in GOP immigration policy

Congress' stance increasingly focuses on legal immigrants of color

Marchers in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood mark the eighth anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake — and protest President Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about the Caribbean country. Credit: Photo by Andrew Innerarity for The Washington Post
Marchers in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood mark the eighth anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake — and protest President Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about the Caribbean country. Credit: Photo by Andrew Innerarity for The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The furor over President Donald Trump’s vulgar language on immigration has partially obscured the substance of what he was demanding and the profound shift among Republicans away from opposing illegal immigration to pushing new limits on legal migrants, particularly of color.

Trump made the profane remark Thursday as he rejected a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to resolve the status of some 700,000 “Dreamers” facing deportation.

In exchange for protecting them, Trump wanted more restrictions on legal migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, among other changes.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked, according to Durbin and others at the meeting.

His remark — which Trump halfheartedly denied later on Twitter — provoked wide furor:

l In a town hall meeting in western Iowa where Republicans far outnumber Democrats, GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley was repeatedly pressed on Trump’s fitness for elected office.

l As she travels the state to build momentum for proposals she made this week in her Condition of the State address, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds found herself taking time to respond to Trump’s outburst. “I don’t think it’s acceptable,” she said in Davenport.

l A spokesman for GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said the senator could not verify the vulgarity but “she would not agree’ with it.

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The presidents demands come as he already has put the country on track to remove 1 million immigrants over the next two years.

Among them are the Dreamers — young immigrants brought to the United States legally as children — and more than 200,000 Salvadorans, nearly 60,000 Haitians and others from Central America who have lived in the country legally, in some cases for decades, under temporary protected status.

The mounting total is a policy reversal for Republicans, who until recently insisted that welcoming new arrivals was vital not just to the fabric of American life but in boosting the domestic economy.

Now, many Republicans in Congress have shifted to a more restrictionist position, following Trump’s lead.

Trump “has taken our issues off the back burner and thrust them into the spotlight,” said Roy Beck, executive director at Numbers USA, which argues for reducing immigration to midcentury levels, before passage of the 1965 immigration overhaul ushered in a new era of migrants.

Beck marvels at the turn of events.

“The president has done as much as we hoped for,” he said.

Trump’s insistence on immigration restrictions may have increased the odds of a confrontation next week when Congress must vote on a measure to fund agencies or risk a partial government shutdown.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have said they won’t vote for the money bill unless it includes a solution for the Dreamers. More than 100 each day are starting to lose permission to stay and work in the United States as Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that was created by the Obama administration. Starting March 5, unless Congress acts, about 1,000 DACA recipients each day will lose protections.

Trump’s comments raised the stakes in the debate over their future.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., warned Friday that Trump’s comments about wanting “to see more immigrants from countries like Norway must be called out for what it is: an effort to set this country back generations by promoting a homogeneous, white society.”

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“We all need to stop pretending that there are no consequences when the most powerful person in the world espouses racist views and gives a wink and a nod to the darkest elements in our society,” she said.

When Trump made the vulgar comment during the Oval Office meeting with senators on immigration reform, only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, appears to have spoken up to challenge him, although Graham would not comment publicly.

“I said my piece directly to him,” Graham said Friday in a statement.

The other five Republicans in the room, it appears, did not say anything at the time and continued that Friday.

Two of them, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, said they could not recall the comments.

“We do not recall the president saying these comments specifically,” the senators said in a statement. “But what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest.”

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, is struck by the sudden shift in the Republican position on immigration.

“For years, people would always say, ‘I’m against illegal immigration; I’m not against legal immigration.’ Now, we find out a lot of them are against legal immigration, and they were just waiting for the right time to say it,” he said.

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