Ambar Castillo" />

Immigration took center stage in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 30, even as the stage lighting cast a dark tone on immigration policy. It also introduced principal characters to the immigration dialogue, namely, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and the families of two teenage girls fatally impacted by the international street gang.

MS-13, which started in Los Angeles in the 1980s by El Salvadoran refugees fleeing a civil war backed by the U.S. government, became transnational largely due to the mass deportation of gang members, who then established a base in their home country before spreading to nations like Honduras and Mexico. While Trump focused on U.S.-born gang victims to highlight the danger posed by immigrant criminals toward citizens, he failed to mention both that MS-13 activities have also resulted in immigrant deaths and that MS-13 is also composed of non-immigrants.

Trump called attention to the tear-stricken families in an effort to link an open-immigration approach with gang violence. His subsequent immigration plan, which he pitched as a bipartisan compromise, held four major facets. First, following his statement that “Americans are DREAMers, too,” Trump proposed a path to citizenship for the approximately 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. before age 16.

He counterposed this concession with his long-time plan to build a wall on the Southern U.S.-Mexico border and to end informal catch-and-release practices of releasing undocumented immigrants while they wait for an immigration judge hearing. He also pledged to end the VISA lottery in favor of a meritocracy based on worker skill level and allegiance to the U.S. The last point of Trump’s plan called for an end to chain migration, limiting sponsorship to spouses and young children.

Throughout Trump’s speech, incendiary rhetoric merged with laudatory moments of military and economic wins. The president’s opening remarks commended the U.S.’s “spine” in disaster relief efforts and tragedy: the heroism of a teary U.S. Coast Guard Ashlee Leppert during Hurricane Harvey in Texas, of firefighter David Dahlberg in fighting the California wildfires, and of “the legend in Louisiana” Steve Scalise, House of Representatives Majority Whip, in surviving a Congressional baseball practice shooting back in June.

Trump claimed declining unemployment rates and rising wages, particularly among the African-American and Hispanic population, as well as the rise of stock market values and 401K and college savings accounts, among his administration’s victories. He also summoned the success stories of small white business owners from Ohio and a black welder in the audience to illustrate how tax cuts in his new tax plan will positively affect U.S. workers.

He pointed to modern infrastructure as one of his top priorities, alongside reciprocal trade agreements, increased investment in technical schools, and a decline in the price of prescription drugs, and an end to the alleged war on coal. Trump’s talk of “our new American moment” and “this is your time,” while reminiscent of 1980s cult adventure film “The Goonies,” accompanied a classic allusion to the American dream, referring to 3Fs in U.S. values: faith, family, and flags. He brought the last point home by shouting out a young boy in the audience who had marked previously unmarked veteran graves in his hometown.

But his language of “coming together…to set aside our differences” and metaphors of the mountains and frontiers the nation would need to move in “building a safe, strong America” was juxtaposed with an aggressive stance on increased militarization. Towards the end of his address, Trump drew a binary between U.S. demonstration of weakness in its international relations and a need to show “unmatched military power” to secure future victory.

Trump stated that further investment in the military is necessary in order to put more pressure on ISIS-occupied territory and to show the U.S. is prepared to pull out big guns in the nuclear standoff against North Korea. Other controversial statements in the address included his condemnation of ObamaCare and his plan to maintain Guantanamo Bay.