Vice President Mike Pence drew a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigration Thursday as he spoke to a group of 50 immigrants who had become American citizens moments earlier.
During his remarks at a July 4 naturalization ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Pence congratulated the immigrants, who came from 29 countries, and said they set an example of how the U.S. has the most generous legal immigration system “in the history of the world.”
“We all know that our current system of immigration faces real challenges, but to those of you who stepped forward today, who made the sacrifices and went through the process, let me say on behalf of President Donald Trump and on behalf of the American people: Welcome to the American family,” Pence said.
The suggestion that the U.S. has the most generous legal immigration system has previously been made by other members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli. But critics suggest that claim does not hold up, especially when you consider the size of the U.S. compared to many countries that take in more refugees per capita.
The vice president’s remarks came during a week when the treatment of migrants in detention centers has sparked outrage from advocates and Democratic lawmakers, renewing debate over how the Trump administration has handled an influx of people trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who secretly recorded video of a detention facility this week, said migrants had gone weeks without taking a bath and were subsisting on ramen noodles and granola bars.
“Things have gotten worse because of how the administration has approached this issue,” he told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.
A report released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog found migrants packed into cells beyond capacity at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. It was the second time in just more than two months that the Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General warned the agency that it needed to address overcrowding.
Homeland Security opened a separate investigation into social media posts by members of the Border Patrol this week after ProPublica exposed a secret Facebook group where Border Patrol agents had posted offensive graphics and joked about the deaths of migrants.
The Trump administration has called the surge of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border a “crisis” that it is trying to address with stricter enforcement measures. This week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed it is issuing fines of up to a half million dollars for migrants who do not leave the country after being ordered to do so.
Asylum-seekers have also been forced to stay in Mexico while awaiting their immigration hearings, and an email from Cuccinelli appeared to indicate asylum officers should be more skeptical when evaluating whether asylum-seekers had credible claims of fear in their home country, a key requirement for gaining asylum in the U.S.
Cucinnelli administered the oath of office during Thursday’s naturalization ceremony. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 8 years old and became a citizen at 19, also spoke.