WASHINGTON – In his first official remarks to a joint session of Congress, President Donald Trump forcefully focused on a major campaign promise — immigration reform and border control.
“We must restore integrity and a rule of law at our borders.” Trump said.
Trump brought family members of California Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver and Det. Michael Davis, who were killed by an illegal immigrant, to the House chamber. He told Oliver’s daughter that she has “the love of an entire country supporting you.”
“As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens,” he said.
Trump announced the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security office named Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE.
“We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests,” Trump said.
The president’s strong rhetoric on immigration, which had been expected, was the reason that Democrats had invited as their guests in the balconies dozens of immigrants, many of whom benefit from Obama-era policies like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Oscar Juarez-Luna, invited by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., received a two-year permit to avoid deportation under DACA, which provides the reprieve for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
“I’m undocumented and unafraid,” Juarez-Luna said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Donald Trump needs to see the diversity, needs to see the policies that directly impact our communities and we want to show the face of the immigration system that is broken and that is outdated and needs to be fixed.”
Trump argued that immigration reform is possible as long as it leads to improved jobs and wages for Americans, strengthens the nation’s security, and restores respect for laws.
Trump opened his speech by saying that he was there to “deliver a message of unity and strength.” But the audience filling the House chamber continued to be divided by party if judged by reactions to his words.
Laughs and coughs could be heard from the Democratic side of the chamber when Trump mentioned his promise to “drain the swamp.”
The afternoon press conference was arranged by Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and featured Democratic congressmen and the guests they planned to bring to the address.
“Rather than calling it a protest, I categorize it as a respectful reminder to President Trump that he is not an arbiter of patriotism,” said Langevin.
“There are people here from all walks of life that call America home,” he said. “It is my hope that President Trump when he’s addressing the joint session of Congress tonight, addressing to the American people, as he’s looking out into the gallery, that he sees the diversity of America.”