In a defensive and rambling speech in which the president was clearly venting frustration over the rising tide of bipartisan outrage over the policy that separates migrant families, Donald Trump told an audience of small-business owners a series of falsehoods and dramatic, fear-mongering warnings as he doubled down on his now familiar justifications for child separation.
While reserving blame for the Democrats (who, he said, support “open borders” because they consider MS-13 gang members future Democrat voters and who forced this outcome by building loopholes in the immigration laws) and Mexico (“They do nothing for us”), Trump still seemed to take some ownership of the policy, justifying it as a necessary step in protecting the border. “When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away,” he said.
The speech, delivered to the National Federation of Independent Businesses on Tuesday, dealt much more with immigration than with small-business issues, as Trump has appeared to become increasingly agitated in the face of both Democrats and Republicans calling his administration’s policy cruel and inhumane.
But the president did deliver a strange set of remarks about trade and tariffs, with a warning to Canada that its tariffs are too high, meaning “we’re treated horribly.” He shared a strange example:
The tariffs to get common items back into Canada are so high that they have to smuggle them in. They buy shoes, then they wear them. They scuff them up. They make them sound old or look old.
It’s unclear where he pulled this anecdote from. He concluded, “No, we have to change our ways. We can no longer be the stupid country. We want to be the smart country.”
But the president’s most inflammatory statements came when he spoke about Central American migrants, who, in one of his more fearmongering speeches, he described as violent people, often either bringing gang violence to the country or trafficking children. Some highlights from the speech:
People that come in violate the law, they endanger their children in the process, and frankly, they endanger all of our children. You see what happens with MS-13 where your sons and daughters are attacked violently. Kids that never even heard of such a thing are being attacked violently. Not with guns but with knives because it’s much more painful.
And remember, these countries that we give tremendous foreign aid to in many cases, they send these people up, and they’re not sending their finest. Does that sound familiar? Remember I made that speech and I was badly criticized? ‘Oh, that’s so terrible what he said.’ It turned out I was 100 percent right. That’s why I got elected.
Trump also cited some false or misleading facts in his speech to bolster his anti-immigrant views, including his assertion that since Germany began accepting a large number of refugees, the country’s crime has increased by 10 percent. Germany’s crime levels are actually at a 25-year low.
Trump also portrayed migrants as savvy and able to hire lawyers who tell them exactly what to say to be released, allowing them to leave and never return for their court date. In reality, many asylum-seekers are left to navigate the asylum process without the help of any legal counsel, and a significant percentage do return for their hearing.
And he rambled about the large number of judges “they” want at the border. It’s unclear who he was saying wanted “thousands and thousands” of judges, though Ted Cruz has said he would increase the number of judges in his proposed immigration plan.
And he finally made a promise that he would withhold aid from the migrants’ home countries:
Hundreds of millions of dollars we give to some of these countries, and they send them up. Well, I’m going to go very shortly for authorization that when countries abuse us by sending their people up – not their best – we’re not going to give any more aid to those countries. Why the hell should we?
And for a little personal color in his attack on Democrats, who, he said, did a terrible job of letting people know what they stood for, he said his opposing party united around an anti-Trump message which, essentially, was too mean. “I used to go home, I started disliking myself,” he said. “It’s true. I said, man, am I that bad?”
Trump also hit some of his other traditional points. He boasted about the economy. He bragged about his election, “a beautiful thing.” And he threw in accusations that the “fake news” media were actively aiding criminals: “They are helping these smugglers and these traffickers like nobody would believe,” he said. “They know it, they know exactly what they’re doing, and it should be stopped.”