US president vows ‘new chapter in American greatness,’ saying ‘the time for trivial fights is behind us’.
President Donald Trump said he has given orders to create a special office to assist victims of crime by immigrants: “VOICE” – Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.
According to the Independent, the VOICE agency is expected to publish a weekly list of all crimes committed by immigrants, suggesting that anyone who has moved to the US, both documented and undocumented, could find their name on the public document.
Trump announced the initiative on Tuesday during his first speech to Congress, where there were audible groans and sounds of surprise from people in the audience when he said the name of the new office.
Trump paid tribute to four guests in the audience, who, he said, had lost loved ones in violent crimes committed by immigrants living in the country illegally.
He also suggested a new merit-based system to regulate entry to the United States, as he tried to square his campaign rhetoric with the goal of broad immigration reform.
Addressing Congress, Trump stood by his plan to subject travellers from several mainly-Muslim countries deemed a risk to extreme vetting, insisting: “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”
But – alongside this promise of “strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism” – he held out the prospect of a merit-based immigration system that might win cross-party support.
Arguing that mass immigration by unskilled workers costs US taxpayers billions of dollars and depresses wages and job opportunities of the working poor, Trump urged lawmakers to get behind reform.
“If we are guided by the well-being of American citizens then I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades,” he argued.
A merit-based system – such as those in use in Canada and Australia – would, he argued “save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families – including immigrant families – enter the middle class”.
“It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” Trump told lawmakers.
“Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon,” he added.
US lawmakers, encouraged by the previous administration under Barack Obama, have long sought to agree on a broad-based package to provide roughly 11 million undocumented migrants with a path to legal residency.
But Republican members, in particular, faced opposition from their electoral base to any measure that smacked of an “amnesty” for illegal immigrants – a sentiment that Trump played up during his campaign.
Vowing to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out migrants he branded “drug-dealers, murderers and rapists”, Trump gave every appearance of planning a still tougher line on immigration.
But his attempts to introduce a visa ban on visitors from seven mainly-Muslim countries have been halted by the courts and he faces opposition from influential quarters to toughen general controls.
Silicon Valley software giants, with their huge lobbying reach, rely on recruiting foreign engineers – particularly from the Indian sub-continent – and Republican backers in construction and agriculture employ millions of migrants.
Federal officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and from Customs and Border Protection have set about enforcing existing immigration law with renewed vigour – but their dragnet has triggered popular protests.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump suggested in a meeting with television news anchors that he was open to a deal that would legalise millions of undocumented immigrants as part of a bipartisan compromise.
That would mark a dramatic shift in policy.
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” Trump reportedly told the anchors.
But there is clearly a line that Trump cannot cross if he is to placate his electoral base. Blue-collar crowds in the key states that gave him victory cheered his “Build the Wall” mantra to the rafters.
And Trump has firmly tied his pledge to fight illegal immigration to the prospect of jobs and security at home.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Capitol Hill, said the address was very different from previous Trump speeches.
“It was a conventional speech, a presidential speech … with no references to ‘fake news’ or ‘dishonest media‘”.
“He said in his speech that ‘the time for trivial fights is behind us’… This feels a bit like a reset speech from the president. A new tone, but not much new in terms of policy,” said Bays.