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How President Trump keeps voters’—and the media’s—focus on immigration

A week before the midterms, President Trump is trying to keep immigration issues front and center. He said he intends to eliminate the “birthright” rule, which grants citizenship to babies born on U.S. soil, whether or not their parents are here legally. Meanwhile, 5,200 soldiers will arrive on the U.S.-Mexico border as caravans of Central American migrants journey north. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to the roiling debate over immigration, and recent moves by President Trump to both stop illegal crossings into the U.S., and to highlight the issue as the midterm elections approach.

    Nick Schifrin looks at this politically and socially divisive issue.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Dover Air Force Base, American soldiers head to their latest deployment. This is an airlift squadron that last year deployed to Afghanistan. This mission is closer to home: Help secure the southern U.S. border.

    By the end of the week, 5,200 soldiers will fan out across Southern states and deliver planes and helicopters with night sensors that can find people crossing the border illegally, and quickly deploy Border Patrol agents, use combat engineers to lay fencing along the border, provide housing for Border Patrol agents, and add security to border checkpoints.

  •  Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy:

    The president has made it clear that border security is national security. That is the direction we have given, and that's direction we're marching to.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    General Terrence O'Shaughnessy is the top military commander in North America. He hopes the troops deter two caravans of Central Americans who say they hope to reach the U.S. to escape violence, find work, and reunify with family.

    Their numbers are expected to shrink, and they are still about 1,000 miles from the border. But the overall movement of Central Americans is a threat, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.

  • Kevin McAleenan:

    At any given moment, there are tens of thousands of intending migrants between the Guatemala border and the U.S. border moving towards us at any given time. Within that flow included are about 17,000 criminals last year, along with hardened smugglers and people from over 100 countries around the world.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You have people coming up through the southern border from the Middle East and other places.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For weeks, President Trump has claimed without proof the caravan contained criminals, as he repeated last night on FOX News.

  • President Donald Trump:

    When you look at that caravan, and you look at largely, very, you know, big percentage of men young, strong, a lot of bad people, a lot of bad people in there.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the caravan is full of people like 23-year-old Karla Cruz. Her mother lives in Texas, and she joined the caravan because it's safer than traveling alone.

    She knows the U.S. won't accept her for asylum, but she will keep going, and has a message to President Trump.

  • Karla Cruz (through translator):

    I want to go see my mom. I want to get ahead. I want to maybe finish university. I want to maybe learn his language, and that he also understands that we're not criminals.

  • Andrew Bacevich:

    This so-called caravan poses no threat to the United States whatsoever.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Andrew Bacevich is a retired Army colonel and historian. Some military experts praise the deployment and argue active duty troops can deploy quicker and more cheaply than National Guard. But Bacevich says that misses the point.

  • Andrew Bacevich:

    Our armed forces exist to fight and win the nation's wars. There are better ways to prepare for wars than to deal with this imaginary immigrant threat to our southern borders.

  • Mike Murphy:

    By sending the Army, he builds the optics, the impression that it's some sort of military security threat. They're trying to invade Kansas, which plays exactly to the kind of hysterical messaging he's going to want to try to close the election on.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Mike Murphy is a longtime Republican strategist who calls the deployment cynical politics, one week before a midterm election in which the president believes he benefits by focusing on immigration,as he did again by revealing a plan on Axios on HBO to end the 14th Amendment's guarantee that everyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order. Now, how ridiculous. We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It's ridiculous.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Actually, that's not true. Thirty countries grant automatic citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants, according to a think tank that's supports immigration restrictions.

    And of the top seven industrialized economies, it's only the U.S. and Canada today.

    Today, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan dismissed the president's argument.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.:

    Well, you obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn't like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action. And, obviously, as conservatives, we believe in the Constitution.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We don't have borders, we don't have a country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But President Trump believes talking immigration can increase Republican turnout. And it can, to a point, says Mike Murphy.

  • Mike Murphy:

    It does hit a chord, particularly in red states with some older white voters who are very uneasy about the idea of both illegal immigration and frankly too much immigration in general.

    But Trump's not popular in enough places to have it be a particularly effective message, if he wants to try to keep the House of Representatives under Republican control, which a lot of us in the party would prefer he'd be doing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But President Trump seems to think the politics of the economy aren't as powerful as the politics of fear, even if he says it's not politics, as he refers to migrants crossing a bridge 1,800 miles south of the U.S. border.

  • Question:

    Is this politics, or is this real?

  • President Donald Trump:

    On the bridge, when you looked at the bridge loaded up with people, that's called an invasion of our country. This has nothing to do with elections. And I have been saying this long before election — I have been saying this before I ever thought of running for office.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That's true. But it's also true the president won his election, and hopes to help his party win another election, by talking immigration, and making sure we talk about it too.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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