Here's what President Trump said about immigration reform in his joint speech to Congress, Feb. 28. (The Washington Post)

Last year, with the presidential campaign underway and Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration playing a critical role in the Republican primaries, President Barack Obama addressed the subject.

“Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns,” Obama said. “America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better future,” he added later. “That’s who we are.”

A year later, the American president’s rhetoric on immigration is far different. Below we’ve compiled every mention of immigration, immigrants or the border in President Trump’s joint speech to Congress on Tuesday and added context where appropriate.


Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains. Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.

The shooting in Olathe, Kan., targeted two engineers born in India who’d immigrated to the area. The shooter reportedly told them to “get out of my country” before firing. The mention of the incident in Trump’s speech was the first from the president and came after the Kansas City Star excoriated him for his silence.

… We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross — and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.

The border isn’t quite the free-for-all that Trump depicts, given the miles of wall and the U.S. Border Patrol. Net immigration from Mexico was actually negative from 2009 to 2014, in part because of the weak U.S. economy.

As for drugs pouring in, this can be hard to measure. A Congressional Research Service report released last summer noted an increase in heroin smuggling across the southern border, measured by seizures of the drug in that area. As our fact-checkers note, marijuana seizures are down.

… We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth — and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.

At the same time, my Administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security. By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed — but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.

President Trump promised to lower taxes, combat terrorism and replace the Affordable Care Act in a speech to a joint session of Congress, Feb. 28. Here are key moments from that speech. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

American society is not well described by the phrase “lawless chaos.” Trump, you may have noticed, tends to be hyperbolic.

As for the effects of immigration, a study published last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found “little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term.” More on the other effects below.

For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border. It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime.

It’s not clear what “ahead of schedule” means. But because Trump at one point pledged to start working on the wall on “day one,” it would seem that he’s already behind schedule.

As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised.

It’s true that the majority of those deported in the early days of Trump’s immigration sweep were people with criminal convictions. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 75 percent had prior criminal convictions — although it’s not clear what the nature of those crimes was or the net effect on their communities. On Monday, the New York Times profiled a man in the country illegally who was facing deportation after a criminal conviction — and whose town was rallying to his defense.

Note that a quarter of those detained had no criminal convictions.

To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income, or a loved one, because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?

Our obligation is to serve, protect and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.

According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home — from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and yes, even the World Trade Center.

… It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values.

… That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe — and to keep out those who would do us harm.

The “proper vetting” argument generally links back to comments made by FBI Director James B. Comey, who in 2015 noted that it was harder to vet refugees from Syria than those from Iraq because the U.S. military doesn’t have the same resources and information in the former country as it does in the latter.

Comey also said in that testimony that the screening process had “improved dramatically” in recent years. Immigrants who enter legally are screened by the government before they’re allowed entry, and refugees go through an extensive process that checks their backgrounds.

… I am going to bring back millions of jobs. Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.

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 America’s taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.

Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class.

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.

That National Academy of Sciences study indicates that new immigrants generally flow to places with greater employment opportunity and wages, reducing negative effects. “While pre-existing workers most similar to immigrants may experience lower wages or a lower employment rate,” it reads, “pre-existing workers who are complementary to immigrants are likely to benefit, as are native-born owners of capital.” The preexisting workers most similar to new immigrants? Other new immigrants. “To the extent that negative wage effects are found,” the report reads, “prior immigrants — who are often the closest substitutes for new immigrants — are most likely to experience them, followed by native-born high school dropouts.”

The study also found that first-generation immigrants do cost the system more than they put in, largely because of the cost of educating immigrant children. (The cost, which falls mostly on state and local governments, was estimated at $57 billion annually.) By the second generation, immigrants are a net benefit to governments, to the tune of $30 billion a year. By the third generation? A net positive of $223 billion.

Higher-skilled immigrants do have a strongly positive effect. “The prospects for long-run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants,” the study reads.

… I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American Victims. The office is called VOICE — Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.

This proposal, introduced in a memo from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, has received a lot of negative feedback. (When Trump mentioned it, Democrats groaned.) One issue is that there are negative historical echoes to isolating criminal behavior by one group of people. As the Atlantic notes, the Ministry of Justice in 1930s Germany collected and publicized reports of Jewish criminal activity.


Jessica Davis, center left, and Susan Oliver attended President Trump’s address on Tuesday night. Their husbands were killed by an immigrant who was in the country illegally. (Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency)

When Trump first mentioned criminal activity by immigrants in the country illegally at his campaign kickoff, we assessed his claims about rampant crime among undocumented immigrants. First-generation immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than are native-born Americans, and there’s no correlation between immigrant populations and violent crime.

But Trump continued on the subject.

… Jamiel’s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw Jr. was an incredible young man, with unlimited potential who was getting ready to go to college where he would have excelled as a great quarterback. But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a good friend of mine.

Also with us are Susan Oliver and Jessica Davis. Their husbands — Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver and Detective Michael Davis — were slain in the line of duty in California. They were pillars of their community. These brave men were viciously gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations.

All of these deaths are tragic and were preventable. But this highlights the problem of the VOICE office: Picking out isolated incidents of violent crime by one group can make members of that group seem particularly dangerous, even when the data don’t support that claim.

For example, there are 512,000 Google results for men named Dave who were convicted of murder. A VOICE office could consistently pick out examples of Daves who are behaving improperly and committing crimes; locking up everyone named Dave would prevent any Daves from killing people.

But Daves, as the saying goes, aren’t the problem.