President Donald Trump accused Democrats of encouraging undocumented immigrants to “infest” the United States Tuesday as he escalated an already pitched defense of his controversial policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.
On Twitter and during a speech to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Trump argued that his actions could be stopped if only Democrats would join with Republicans in Congress to adopt his favored changes to immigration law — including the construction of a border wall and limitations on legal immigration — in addition to outlawing his “zero tolerance” policy’s separation of families.
So far, the only bipartisan agreement surrounds the view that Trump should reverse the policy himself. Though that’s not a universal sentiment, many lawmakers in both parties have said this week that he could and should take that step while Congress considers broader immigration legislation. But Trump continued his assault on Democrats Tuesday, portraying them as the only impediment to the immigration agenda he campaigned on.
At the NFIB event here, Trump said Democrats are both necessary to legislating a solution to the border crisis, and would like to allow immigrants to enter the country illegally.
“We need Democrats’ support. They don’t want to give it because Democrats love open borders,” he said, contending that his political opponents favor letting gang members into the country. “They view that as potential voters. Someday they are going to vote for Democrats.”
The rhetoric echoed Trump’s similarly false allegation that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “came out in favor of MS-13.”
Pelosi had objected to Trump calling some undocumented immigrants “animals” earlier this year, a comment he said at the time was directed toward MS-13 gang members specifically and not other immigrants. But Trump’s tweet Monday tagged MS-13 as a subset of illegal immigrants who he said “infest” the U.S.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., criticized Trump’s language.
“No, @POTUS, saying immigrants ‘infest’ our country is repugnant, reprehensible, + repulsive,” she wrote on Twitter. “To dehumanize those who wish to make a better life for themselves + their families flies in the face of decency. The real infestation is only one of your baseless rhetoric.”
Earlier in the day, Trump claimed claimed on Twitter that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants … to pour into and infest” the United States as bipartisan outcry continues over his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents or legal guardians.
“Democrats are the problem,” Trump he said, hours before he is set to address Republicans on the Hill on immigration, again pushing the false notion that the opposition party is responsible for a practice his administration put in place.
Trump began his morning tweetstorm with an attack on the federal probe into Russian election meddling before turning to the news of the day: The alleged dangers of allowing immigrants into the country and the purported necessity of separating families at the border.
He doubled down on a false claim he tweeted yesterday, that crime is up in Germany thanks to high rates of immigrants. German crime is at its lowest point since 1992, down 5 percent from 2016, and there is no evidence that Trump has some alternative, unpublished crime data.
Trump also declared that Congress must “change the ridiculous and obsolete laws on immigration. Get it done, always keeping in mind that we must have strong border security.”
Democrats have lobbied to end the Trump administration’s policy of separating children and adults at the border, and many have accused the president of holding migrant kids hostage in order to extort Congress for money for his long-promised border wall. But Trump also faces growing opposition from his own party and bipartisan consensus has been building put a stop to the practice, though there is no clear legislative path forward.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told NBC News on Tuesday that he is circulating a letter for Republican and Democratic senators to sign calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt family separations until Congress can act.
Trump appeared to throw cold water on a bill developed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would create facilities for holding families and add hundreds of administrative judges to vet asylum claims.
“Ultimately we have to have a real border, not judges,” Trump said. “Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire — who are these people?”
He also said he wants changes to the broader overhaul of immigration laws the House is slated to consider later this week, and suggested he’ll leave a deal on the table if it doesn’t address his priorities.
“We have one chance to get it right,” he said. “We might as well get it right, or let’s just keep going.”