Ahead of President Donald Trump's first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, we got somewhat surprising news out of the White House: Trump, whose thundering anti-immigrant rhetoric was central to his hair-raising campaign, is actually open to the kind of immigration reform his predecessor promised but couldn't deliver.
Or at least that was the "news," in the form of anonymous accounts
from a sort-of off-the-record White House briefing with TV anchors in which Trump said some vague stuff about how "the time is right for an immigration bill."
Then came the speech, which was anything but the anonymously-assured "departure" from Trump's cold, hard stance on immigration. He labeled immigrants as a drag on the economy and a threat to national security. He hinted at a shift to a "merit-based system" of immigration, the right's longstanding euphemism for allowing fewer people to come to the country as family members of U.S. citizens. And even as the president urged Congress to reduce "lower-skilled immigration," it's not clear if Team Trump is even sold on the idea of increasing visas for high-skilled immigrants — Trump chief strategist
Steve Bannon, for instance, worries even those
immigrants could threaten our "civic society."
Not a peep about a legal pathway for the millions of undocumented immigrants who aren't criminals and have deep ties to the country. Here's most of what Trump had to say about immigration reform in his speech
"Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia, and many others, have a merit-based immigration system. It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially.
Yet in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year. Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits.
It will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families, including immigrant families enter the middle class. And they will do it quickly, and they will be very, very happy indeed.
I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation's security, and to restore respect for our laws."
is apparently Trump's pivot on immigration. Cause for alarm or false alarm — how you view his statements Tuesday night likely depends on how you view immigrants in general.
But a departure from the Trump script it was not.