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‘They carve you up with a knife’: Trump is even more hyperbolic about immigration now than in 2016

President Trump wants to reduce legal and illegal immigration, but apparently has no qualms about scapegoating every immigrant in the process. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

President Trump launched his long-shot presidential campaign in 2015 by declaring Mexican immigrants were drug dealers, criminals and rapists.

Three years later, Trump is again facing a tough campaign in which he — or, more accurately, his party — seems likely to face some heavy losses. And so, in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections, Trump is falling back into his trademark hard-line anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The Fix compared Trump’s Monday night speech in Texas to one he made as a presidential candidate and found that what Trump is saying in the past few weeks makes some of his 2016 rhetoric look fairly tame.

Whereas Trump in 2016 allowed for some nuance that, say, “some” immigrants in the country illegally might be good people, in 2018, he routinely describes cities “overrun” with violent, illegal immigrant gangs. In 2016, he focused plenty on murders allegedly committed at the hands of immigrants in the country illegally, but now, he seems to revel in describing the violence committed at the hands of immigrants in the country illegally. Whereas in 2016, the Washington establishment was to blame for all this, in 2018, it’s the Democrats.

Driving votes through fear isn’t a strategy Trump created, but it’s one he’s taken to a degree not seen before in national politics. This time it’s driven by an urgency to help Republicans keep control of Congress.

Here’s our look at Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration in 2016, from a speech he gave in August after meeting with the president of Mexico, and from Monday night, from a rally he gave in Houston for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Who’s at fault

Trump, then: The politicians, in general. “The fundamental problem with the immigration system in our country is that it serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists and powerful politicians. Let me tell you who it doesn’t serve: It doesn’t serve you, the American people.”

Trump, now: The Democrats, unequivocally. Trump repeats blatant falsehoods that Democrats want to allow undocumented immigrants to vote or are giving a caravan of Central American migrants in Mexico money to continue. “As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation. That’s what’s happening. The Democrats have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country, the security of our nation and the safety of every single American.”

Immigration restructuring he’d support

Trump, then: He wasn’t really that specific. “Immigration reform should mean something else entirely: It should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens.”

Trump, now: Closed borders! Or else . . . “We have to protect our borders. We don’t have borders, we don’t have a country. We have to protect our borders.”

On limiting legal immigration

Trump, then: Let’s talk about it. “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.”

Trump, now: He consistently bashes two immigration laws that most members of Congress, Republicans included, have long supported: family migration and a visa-lottery system. “You know what visa lottery is? Countries put name in a batch and you pick them. You pick them. You keep picking them. And then you got nothing but problems, because you think those countries are putting their finest? I don’t think so. It’s a great way to dispose of their problems. Visa lottery. And then you have chain migration.”

Melania Trump's parents became naturalized citizens despite Trump's hostility toward 'chain migration'

On the dangers immigrants bring

Trump, then: It was a big focus of his campaign. He routinely highlighted some of the most gruesome murders, allegedly at the hands of undocumented immigrants. “In California, a 64-year-old Air Force veteran, Marilyn Pharis, was sexually assaulted and beaten to death with a hammer. Her killer had been arrested on multiple occasions, but was never deported.”

Trump, now: He seems to revel in describing the violence, which he dwells on in even more detail. “A guy comes in, as an example, West Side Highway in Manhattan. That’s where I am. Beautiful park, beautiful highway. This animal is driving a car down, and he decides he’s going to make a right, right into the park where everyone is working out, exercising, running, bicycling. And he knocks everything down, including kills eight people. And badly wounds — you ever notice they never talk about the people that are wounded, where they lose their arms, and their legs, and their lives can never be the same? They never talk. They say eight people died. They don’t talk about the 12 people that lost something so important.

"These are people that are in a park where they go to exercise so they can be in perfect shape. And they go home months later without their legs, without their arms. Because this animal going at a very fast speed just decided he’s going to make a right into the park and run people over.

“So he has 22 people that came in, because he’s here. So he’s here. It’s called chain, a chain, nice name, chain migration. He’s here. His mother comes with him, his father then comes, his uncle, his aunt, his brother, his nephew, his sister, 22 people. No jobs. Just 22 people.”

On whether there are any positives to illegal immigration

Trump, then: He allowed for some nuance. “While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.

Trump, now: Definitely not. This week he described a group of Central American families walking through Mexico seeking asylum as an “onslaught of illegal aliens,” even suggesting in veiled language some might be terrorists. And he talks about cities being “overrun” with gangs of illegal immigrants.

When asked what evidence President Trump had that “unknown Middle Easterners” were in the migrant caravan, he told reporters to "search" with their cameras. (Video: The Washington Post)

“We’ve removed thousands, thousands of them. They came in through the wonderful Obama administration. We removed thousands and thousands of these people. And the towns are liberated. And you see the people, they’re clapping from their window. I’m telling you, it’s like a war. It’s like a war zone.”

Later: “They’re people. They carve you up with a knife, but they’re people.”