EDITORIAL: Immigration addresses were more of same

York Dispatch Editorial Board

The setting may have been novel, but the content was largely familiar.

President Donald Trump used the backdrop of the Oval Office Tuesday night for a prime-time address in which he made his case for what he sees as the pressing need for a wall along the Mexican border.

It was made neither compellingly nor convincingly, despite statements of support from some Republican lawmakers, including Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey.

While past presidents have used the gravitas of the Oval Office to speak to the nation at times of grave threat (think George W. Bush post-9/11) or mourning (Ronald Reagan following the 1986 Challenger disaster), Trump chose a political standoff of his own making for his first nationally televised address to the nation.

He offered no new arguments for the necessity of a border wall, foregoing, for the moment, a threat to declare a national emergency to construct the barrier.

His recitation of anecdotal crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants was unsettling but by no means reflective of the actions of tens of thousands of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S. (in fact, as has been cited, crime rates among U.S. citizens far exceed those of immigrant populations, both legal and otherwise).

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As seen from a window outside the Oval Office, President Donald Trump gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The president offered no evidence of what he called “a crisis of the heart; a crisis of the soul,” outside of warmed-over recitations that the U.S. is being overrun by drug-running criminals and terrorists. Such claims are not accurate.

Trump’s own Homeland Security officials have acknowledged that most illegal drug trafficking comes through legal ports of entry.

And none other than Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday corrected White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ erroneous claim that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” have crossed the nation’s southern border. (The most vulnerable port of entry is airports, Wallace pointed out, “the state department says there haven’t been any terrorists found coming across the southern border.”)

In short, the president’s claims of a “humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border” were, as they have been all along, overblown.

And unlike Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi of the House and Chuck Schumer of the Senate, who offered a brief rebuttal, Trump alluded almost not at all to the fulcrum of his speech: the ongoing government shutdown.

It is, after all, Trump’s insistence on $5 billion-plus for his long-promised border wall that has shut down more than a quarter of federal operations for going on four weeks. The ramifications are being increasingly felt nationwide, from the nation’s largest airports to the craft brewing industry in York County.

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But Trump said little about the hundreds of thousands of furloughed or working-without-pay federal employees who have been hit the hardest by his manufactured budget standoff.

Schumer and Pelosi, on the other hand, wisely repeated their common-sense plea for the president to take yes for an answer. Democrats have offered several proposals that would re-open government operations — providing funding for the nation’s parks, restaurants, airport security officials and the like (not to mention the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which would green-light York County’s microbreweries). The president should signal acceptance.

All sides can then continue the not-unnecessary negotiations about how best to strengthen the nation’s immigration system to meet the ongoing influx of families seeking asylum.

Rather than the unveiling of new ideas or proposals, Tuesday night’s addresses were a simple restating of where the White House and congressional Democrats stand on immigration.

What the nation is waiting to find out is where they’re going.