The View From Here | Nothing Great About Oval Office Comments


Did he or didn’t he say it?

That’s the question that’s been on many minds since Jan. 11.

I’m, of course, referring to President Donald Trump. In the midst of an Oval Office discussion with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators presumably aimed at hammering out a deal on the fate of the 69,000 dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children whose protections are expiring — Trump reportedly objected to accepting immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Africa and other “shithole” countries.

Republicans who were at the brief exchange have denied they heard the president use that specific term, and new reports on Jan. 16 indicated that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) may have misheard Trump say “shithouse” instead.

Regardless of what specifically passed the president’s lips — and seemingly contrary to what has actually been the justified apoplexy that has swept across the country — it does not matter which word Trump borrowed from the lexicon of vulgarity that day. It could have even been “hellhole,” a description that at different times might be an apt characterization of various transitioning nations and failed states.

No, the way I see it is that the kicker came just after the swearing, when Trump reportedly held up Norway and Asian countries as the sources of what he feels would be more favorable immigrants. At best, the president seems to see immigration through a supposed economic-benefit model, while at worst, he uses economics as a proxy for what at its heart would be nothing less than a race- and ethnic-based discriminatory immigration system.

There is no question that Salvadorans and Haitians benefitting from so-called Temporary Protected Status came to the United States because of a breakdown in humanitarian services in their home countries following powerful earthquakes. But to begrudge their presence here — for either economic or racial reasons — is evidence of a cruel heart indeed.

For one, recipients of TPS, which the Trump administration announced this month will end, work and pay taxes and thereby contribute to the overall American economy, as do most dreamers. In addition, separating residents on the basis of their race, ethnicity or country of origin — as the president’s reference to the entire continent of Africa seems to do — is not something to which we as Americans generally aspire.

The nativists argue that immigration presents a net drag on the economy. That’s a dubious claim, even though states with large low-income and immigrant populations tend to pay up-front costs in the delivery of social services such as education. (Most immigrants are barred by law from receiving cash assistance and other social safety net benefits like food stamps and Medicaid.) The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School concluded that in the long run, America’s relatively liberal immigration policies have a net positive economic effect.

“Immigrants, whether high- or low-skilled, legal or illegal, are unlikely to replace native-born workers or reduce their wages over the long-term, though they may cause some short-term dislocations in labor markets,” Wharton’s Budget Model newsletter declared last summer. “Indeed, the experience of the last few decades suggests that immigration may actually have significant long-term benefits for the native-born, pushing them into higher-paying occupations and raising the overall pace of innovation and productivity growth.”

You needn’t be a social justice warrior championing the Jewish mandate to “welcome the stranger” to realize that immigration from all parts of the world is a big part of what has made this country so great. It does need repeating, however, that many of our ancestors — far from being welcomed — were denigrated as poor and undesirable immigrants when they arrived on these shores.

Their experiences, echoed by the collective history of the German, Italian, Eastern European, Asian, African and South American immigrants who at various times in our history flocked to the United States, demonstrate that on the whole, immigrants are hardworking, resourceful and proud of their communities — all traits that Americans hold dear.

Trump and his supporters needn’t be racist to be proven just how wrong their position is. But it cannot be denied that the kind of race-based discrimination they seem to want to implement in U.S. immigration policy is antithetical to America’s values and its history as a safe haven for the world’s downtrodden and oppressed. To keep her “city on a hill” shining for the rest of the world requires us to refrain from turning her light off.

Make no mistake: That is precisely what will happen — if it hasn’t already — if we pull the welcome mat from under those looking for safety and a better life. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at


  1. “To keep her ‘city on a hill’ shining for the rest of the world requires us to refrain from turning her light off.”

    It is all but too late; Trump is hell-bent on transforming the U.S. into the “sh**hole in the valley.”


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