Alfonse D'Amato

For echoes of Trump on immigration, revisit Bill Clinton


What was the Democratic Party’s position on immigration that was strongly advocated by former President Bill Clinton, and was widely cheered by his party, in his address to Congress on Jan. 24, 1995?

It is instructive to quote part of that address:

“All Americans . . . in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens . . .”

Clinton continued, “We will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace . . . We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

Clinton’s remarks were greeted with a standing ovation and thunderous applause by his Democratic colleagues in Congress. I was there, and saw it for myself.

Ask yourself a question. Are today’s immigration problems less or more dangerous than they were in 1995? Why are the Democrats and their liberal colleagues organizing such vicious attacks on President Trump for the same immigration policies that Clinton and they supported? Trump is calling for the same actions and protections for our citizens that Clinton advocated and that his Democratic colleagues wholeheartedly supported.

The world is a much more dangerous place today than when Clinton made his proposals on immigration. Since 1995, the threat of radical Islamic extremists has become many times greater.

Clinton’s call for securing the borders and deporting illegal aliens came before the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, and the many lone-wolf terrorist attacks that have occurred since — events such as the Orlando night club massacre and the San Bernardino shooting. It came before the exponential growth of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and the threats they pose to Americans at home and abroad.

So what has changed in the past 22 years to bring about the hatred, the vehement opposition and, in some cases, the unlawful violence against President Trump’s call to secure our borders, deport criminal aliens and protect the American people?

Our nation has been in desperate need of immigration reform for decades, yet we are still fighting the same battle that Clinton called for in 1995. He wasn’t labeled a racist in 1995, and Trump shouldn’t be labeled one in 2017. That’s unfair, unacceptable and just plain wrong.

We are a nation of immigrants, and people around the world still believe in coming to our country and pursuing the American dream. For the safety of this nation and for future generations, however, it is important to make sure that those coming into the U.S. are properly vetted and obtain entry legally.

History has a funny way of repeating itself, but for the sake of our security, it’s time for real, comprehensive immigration enforcement. Now more than ever, we and our fellow Americans must rally in support of Trump’s efforts to ensure that security.

I hope the president is successful in bringing about meaningful immigration reform. We shouldn’t have to wait another 20 years for a future president to call us to secure our nation’s borders and remove those who have entered illegally and committed crimes against our citizens.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column?