Shortly following the reopening of the U.S. government after the longest shutdown in history, President Trump delivered his 2019 State of the Union address to a newly divided Congress on February 5. As predicted by several Northwestern professors, the issue of border security was at the forefront of Trump’s speech.
Jaime Dominguez, an assistant professor of instruction in the department of political science in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, teaches and researches on topics like race and ethnicity, immigration, urban politics, Latinx politics and Chicago politics. Dominguez made a prediction about the role border security would play in the State of the Union address.
“Border Security will be front and center of Trump’s speech,” Dominguez said. “He will make his case, once again, for the wall. And, in an effort to bypass the Congress, Trump will make the case for why he will use his emergency executive powers to get the wall project funded.”
While Trump made no mention of the potential use of emergency executive powers on Tuesday, Dominguez was correct in anticipating the importance of border security in the address as a whole. Trump made many references to immigration control, mentioning the migrant caravans that have become a symbol in his attempt to obtain funding for a wall along the border.
Trump also stated that legal immigrants strengthen the American economy, arguing that he supports immigration as long as it occurs in a legal manner – although according to Politico’s live fact-check, the economic effects of both legal and illegal immigration are “very small.” In his address, however, Trump also asked the public to help defend the “very dangerous southern border” and said that those who tolerate illegal immigrants are not “compassionate,” but rather “very cruel.”
“Most of the people in this room voted for a wall,” Trump said. “But the proper wall never got built. I'll get it built.”
Alvin Tillery, an associate professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, said that Trump’s approach to addressing border security just after “losing,” by most accounts, the government shutdown, is something that would be unusual for any other president.
“A normal president would use this opportunity to course correct and strike a conciliatory tone with the Democratic House of Representatives and the nation that repudiated his leadership in the 2018 midterms and believes that his border wall is just a folly,” Tillery said. “We can expect Mr. Trump to take just the opposite approach and renew his Twitter tagline of ‘Build the Wall and Crime will Fall.’”
As Tillery predicted, Trump did take this approach, which has possible implications that extend beyond the address itself. For Trump, it is especially important that he holds the support of his most committed followers in the midst of the Mueller investigation.
“Mr. Trump has to take this approach because he has successfully sold this idea to that tiny sliver of the American public that are his base voters,” Tillery said. “He desperately needs these people to keep believing if he is to avoid impeachment in the wake of the release of the pending Mueller Report.”
Former Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also touched on border security in her response to Trump’s State of the Union address. Abrams discussed her disapproval of the nation’s current way of dealing with border security, and that it is immigrants, and not walls, that add value to the country.
“This administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart.” Abrams said. “Compassionate treatment at the borders is not the same as open borders.”
It is unclear as to what exactly Trump will do next in terms of addressing border security, but it is apparent that as of now, it is still an issue. Emergency powers may not be in place as of yet and were not discussed in the State of the Union address, but Trump’s focus on border security in his speech indicates that this matter will continue to play a central role in American politics.