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Michael A. Cohen

On immigration: Trump’s world vs. reality

Donald Trump unveils his immigration plan in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Donald Trump unveils his immigration plan in Phoenix on Wednesday.DAVID CRUZ/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump gave a long-awaited speech on immigration Wednesday in Phoenix and put to bed the fervid, if delusional, belief among political pundits that a new Trump will someday emerge.

Indeed, at the outset of his remarks, Trump told his overwhelmingly white audience that they “will get the truth” on immigration.

But that didn’t happen.

In Trump’s world, America is dealing with “record immigration.” In reality, from 2009 to 2014, more immigrants returned to Mexico than stayed in the United States.

In Trump’s world, “countless innocent American lives have been stolen” because of undocumented immigrants committing crime. And last night Trump recounted several gruesome tales of murders committed by immigrants and blamed the Obama administration for allowing “thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets.”

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In reality, the Obama administration has prioritized the deportation of undocumented immigrants who’ve committed crimes, all the while presiding over the deportation of 2.5 million people — the highest number of any president in history.

In Trump’s world, “Hillary Clinton has pledged amnesty in her first 100 days and her plan will provide Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare for illegal immigrants breaking the federal budget.”

In reality, none of this is even remotely true.

In Trump’s world, Mexico will pay for the wall he wants to build along the southern border.

In reality, the Mexican president told Trump, in person, that Mexico would not pay for the wall – several hours before Trump delivered his speech.

And then there’s the fact — so often lost in the debate over illegal immigration — that undocumented immigrants pay taxes, are ineligible for food stamps, Medicaid or welfare and add billions of dollars a year to the Social Security system that they will never see in benefits.

There is a popular conception that undocumented immigrants are a drain on the budget and take benefits away from hard-working American citizens. It is not true. Indeed, considering the stinginess of US public benefit programs, any person who comes to this country to live off the public dole has made a huge miscalculation.

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But with Trump, dishonesty is only half the battle. The true crux of Trump’s immigration appeal is grounded in the fostering of cultural fear and anxiety among his supporters.

On Wednesday, Trump called for a Maoist-style “ideological certification” of immigrants that would ensure “those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.” He suggested that only those “able to successfully assimilate” should be allowed to remain in America. He scapegoated immigrants for reducing “jobs and wages for American workers” and he complained, “We take anybody.”

But in reality it’s exceptionally hard to immigrate to America, especially if one is poor — which is part of the reason that there are so many undocumented immigrants living here. Trump seems to want to further restrict legal immigration, as if this nation was not built by the hands of countless immigrants. That a candidate who would so willingly turn his back on this nation’s perhaps greatest strength — its embrace of immigration — all the while running on a slogan of “Make America Great Again” is perhaps the most understated irony of this bizarre campaign.

What we saw in Phoenix is what we’ve seen from Trump for the past 15 months – a demagogue spewing fear and hatred of “others” in a naked pursuit of political power. It’s unlikely to appeal to anyone outside his narrow range of backers – and thus fail politically — but it doesn’t make it any less frightening.

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Trump’s speech wasn’t the pivot people were expecting. That’s because there is no Trump 2.0. There is no pivot. There is no moderation. There is only one Trump, and this is it.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.