Author: Chris Stevenson
Donald Trump put his hardline immigration policies at the centre of the Republican agenda on Saturday, declaring that the US must have “strong borders”, with little mention of the current crisis over the separation of migrant families.
Seeking to push past the loud outcry over the “zero tolerance” policy that has resulted in more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents, the president used a speech to the Nevada Republican Party convention in Las Vegas to make clear he believes immigration is the issue that will help his party win crucial midterm elections later this year.
While Mr Trump was trying to project himself as the toughest fighter against illegal immigration, the backlash over the controversial separation policy continued. There were demonstrations in a number of cities, while protesters blocked a bus carrying immigrants into one Texas shelter and shouted “Shame! Shame!” at border agents.
Mr Trump had backed down earlier this week and ended the separation policy via an executive order, after a number of reports and videos detailing children kept in wire-fence cages and audio of separated children screaming caused international uproar.
The “zero tolerance” policy means all adults illegally entering the US are referred for prosecution, with their children being taken into government-run shelters. However, there is still confusion over how such families will be reunited. A group of 25 Democratic legislators who toured a processing facility in the US-Mexico border city of McAllen, Texas, on Saturday said they hadn’t seen a clear federal system for reuniting families
They also described seeing children sleeping behind bars, on concrete floors and under emergency “mylar” heat-resistant blankets.
“There are still thousands of children who are out there right now untethered to their parents and no coherent system to fix that,” Representative Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut, told reporters after the tour.
Protests occurred outside the Nevada convention, New York, Florida, Texas and California. Marchers in San Diego carrying signs reading “Free the Kids” and “Keep Families Together”.
For Mr Trump, who was in his element in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Nevada convention, the focus was the midterms in November. He was keen to shift blame for the current crisis, admonishing the Democrats, plus the previous administrations of Barack Obama and George W Bush.
“Everybody sees but this is the same sight that Obama had, that Bush had: same sight,” Mr Trump said. “It’s the same thing.”
The president praised his administration for their work and labelled Democrats “obstructionists” against wider immigration reform.
“Our people are actually doing a very good job handling a very difficult situation but this is a problem that should have been solved years ago,” he said.
“So we’re working very hard. The fact is we need more Republicans because the Democrats are obstructionists. They won’t vote,” he added.
Having changed gears since signing the executive order over ending separations on Wednesday, Mr Trump is now using the type of hardline language that was central to his election campaign.
“We will have millions and millions of people pouring through our country with all of the problems that would cause … If they see any weakness, they will come by the millions.”
He compared the two main parties immigration stances and called Democrats “weak” on border issues.
“Our issue is: strong borders, no crime. Their issue is: open borders, let MS-13 [gang] all over our country.”
Mr Trump was accompanied on the trip west by his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who caused controversy by dismissing a story about a 10-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome being taken from her mother. He responded “womp womp”. Mr Lewandowski later said he had instead been mocking the “liberal” who had brought up the story.
Mr Trump was in Las Vegas to assist Dean Heller, the only Republican US senator seeking re-election in a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Mr Trump and Heller have papered over their once prickly relationship to present a united front in their shared goal of helping Republicans maintain, if not expand, their thin 51-49 majority in the Senate in November’s congressional elections.
Mr Trump declared that he had a “great nickname” for Representative Jacky Rosen, Mr Heller’s Democrat: “Wacky Jacky.”
Mr Trump noted that Ms Rosen was in Reno with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and returned the old jab at the senator by referring to her as “Pocahontas” to ridicule her claims of Native American ancestry.
“Wacky Jacky is campaigning with Pocahontas. Do you believe this?” Mr Trump said. “When you see that, that’s not the senator you want.”
Ms Rosen responded quickly in a statement that Mr Trump’s visit was Mr Heller’s “reward” for his loyalty to the president.