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GOP Convention sold immigration ideals Trump doesn’t buy or believe

A lineup of immigrant speakers painted one picture of Trump’s America at the Republican National Convention, all while Trump’s track record on immigration portrays another.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive on the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

In an election environment usually geared toward the future, last week’s Republican National Convention instead obsessed with revisionist history. A lineup of immigrant speakers painted one picture of Trump’s America, all while Trump’s track record on immigration portrays another.

The RNC had no shortage of heartfelt speeches from immigrants. First lady Melania Trump delivered a stirring address, making us wonder why we don’t hear more from her. Identifying first as “an immigrant and a very independent woman,” she shined a spotlight on our nation’s immigrants that lingered throughout the rest of the convention.

She was followed by Maximo Alvarez, who fled Castro’s Cuba and gave an impassioned speech on the goodness of America. “If I gave away everything I have today, it would not equal 1% of what I was given when I came to this great country of ours: the gift of freedom,” he said.

While both Melania Trump’s and Alvarez’s words were stirring — and their firsthand experience irrefutable — it’s hard to reconcile their version of the American dream with the reality of Trump’s America. Had, say, Alvarez fled Cuba today, not in 1961, would he still be praising the American ideal? Or would he have been turned away?

The truth is that Trump’s tough-on-illegal-immigration platform has spiraled into something altogether different. What began as campaign trail promises to bolster border security and a string of “Muslim bans” upon taking office spiraled into expanded crackdowns on refugee admissions, work visas and family unifications. By early next year, legal immigration will be half of what it was when Trump was elected.

Asylum-seekers, including Cubans like Alvarez, are being turned away and deported at record numbers. During fiscal year 2019, over 25,000 Cuban asylees were threatened with deportation. Had Alvarez ventured to the U.S. under the Trump administration, he may have never found a home.

And it isn’t just Cubans who struggle to find a place here — religious exiles are being turned away at record highs, too. A recent report from World Relief and Open Doors USA found that the United States has drastically reduced the number of Christian refugees it accepts from countries where they face extreme persecution. If the current rate persists, the U.S. will admit 90% fewer Christian refugees during fiscal year 2020 than it did in 2015.

Though a fraction of the deduction was caused by COVID-19 restrictions, much — in fact, most — is a result of administrative action long before lockdowns and travel restrictions were in place. Refugee resettlement in the United States has plummeted under the Trump administration, and those escaping religious oppression are not exempt — Christian refugee resettlement in the first three years combined under Trump is eclipsed by fiscal year 2016 alone.

Even skilled migrant workers — like Melania Trump, when she came from Slovenia — are finding it more difficult to work in the United States. An executive order signed earlier this year significantly cut down on H-1B visas, the same visa Mrs. Trump used to legally reside and work in the United States in the 1990s. Trump’s efforts to limit foreign workers is out of step with many even within his party, like Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee.

While Melania Trump and Maximo Alvarez stand as impressive models of what America can be, their stories show a stark contrast to the immigrants seeking refuge in Trump’s America. Even the five people who were granted citizenship by Trump on Tuesday make up a blatant minority — and seem to be poster children for a reality that isn’t nearly as pompous. Backlogs in the naturalization interview process will prohibit over 300,000 people (and 1,400 in Utah) from gaining citizenship before November’s election, meaning they will be unable to vote.

“It’s not so easy. You went through a lot,” Trump told those five new citizens, a compassionate statement from a characteristically transactional president. But in giving perhaps the closest thing to a truthful assessment of the American immigration system heard all week, Trump hinted at what American voters deserved to hear at the convention: the somber stories of current immigrants in Trump’s America.

Email: sbenson@deseretnews.com