If Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is attempting a pivot, it’s not one that moves him away from his harsh and negative rhetoric about refugees and undocumented immigrants.
He released a new ad on Friday that, like his speeches, paints foreign nationals coming to the U.S. as terrorist threats and criminals. It is his first ad of the general election against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“In Hillary Clinton’s America, the system stays rigged against Americans,” a voiceover says. “Syrian refugees flood in. Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay, collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line. Our border open. It’s more of the same, but worse.”
“Donald Trump’s America is secure,” the voiceover continues. “Terrorists and dangerous criminals kept out. The border secure. Our families safe. Change that makes America safe again.”
The $4.8 million ad will air in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida over the next 10 days, NPR reported.
Trump said on Thursday that he regrets having sometimes not chosen the right words or said the right thing, acknowledging that he “may have caused personal pain.” He offered no specifics on what, exactly, he regretted, although there’s a long list of possibilities.
The fact that he’s pinning his first general election ad on the same comments that have offended many people indicates he does not regret what he has said about refugees or undocumented immigrants.
The imagery raises some questions. The ad shows people being apprehended by border agents, even as the voiceover says, “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay.”
The words “our border is open” is accompanied by an image of people at a border crossing, which is perfectly legal ― this reporter has walked into Mexico and back. It also shows footage of migrants holding onto the top of a train known as “La Bestia,” which travels from Central America to the United States. The Mexican government began two years ago to crack down on people climbing on the train to get to the U.S. border.
The statement that the system is rigged is paired with an image of people in line to vote, with the text “system rigged” appearing next to a black woman. Trump has previously said the election may be rigged and has called for volunteers to monitor certain polling places.
Trump’s comments are misleading, if not flat-out wrong. Some depend on interpretation ― the ad says Syrian refugees are “flood[ing] in,” for example. The U.S. is on track to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, but that’s a tiny fraction of the Syrian refugee population in general. A majority of those welcomed here have been women and minors.
The U.S. does not deport every undocumented person committed of a crime, which the Obama administration attributes to its limited resources. Some people convicted of crimes considered minor are able to avoid deportation, and others stay because their home countries won’t take them back. But the government does deport hundreds of thousands of people ― it carried out more than 460,000 removals and returns in the 2015 fiscal year.
In general, undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security funds but don’t get anything in return.
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on what the ad was referring to specifically about Social Security. There are a few possibilities, albeit none that clearly show any mass effort to give undocumented immigrants those benefits. Clinton favors comprehensive immigration reform that would allow some to become citizens, which would make them eligible for Social Security.
Some undocumented young people who came to the U.S. can receive Social Security cards under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. But they’re ineligible for federal benefits, far from retirement age and make up a minority of the undocumented population. There were reports in 2014 that recipients of Obama’s proposed ― and subsequently blocked ― expansion of deferred action would be eligible to collect Social Security, but it never happened.
The southwest border doesn’t have the wall that Trump has proposed, and Clinton opposes one. But it does have hundreds of miles of fencing and more than 20,000 border agents. The government and analysts typically use border apprehensions as an indicator of total crossings, and they are up from the 2015 fiscal year but still lower than they were in the 2014 or 2013 fiscal years.
From a man who has called for mass deportation, of course, none of this is surprising. But it does show that he is committed to demonizing refugees and undocumented immigrants ― there’s no reason to expect it to change.