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In America First speech, Trump promotes 'merit-based' immigration

New York, Jan 31 (IANS) In a speech brimming with patriotism and the America First concept, President Donald Trump has reiterated the US commitment to strengthen its military, protect its borders and reset its trading relationships while calling for “merit-based” immigration system.

“This is our new American moment,” Trump declared in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night in Washington as he took a victory lap for the economic achievements of the first year of his presidency and laid out an agenda for the rest of it.

In his 80-minute speech in the House chamber of the Capitol, Trump renewed his campaign call “to make America great again for all Americans” by working “all of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.”

Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan were at the event.

The speech, mostly devoted to domestic issues, was punctuated with spectacles for television with Trump calling out at appropriate points in his speech to crime victims, business people, beneficiaries of his economic programmes, soldiers, a crippled North Korean refugee and others seated in the audience with anecdotes about them.

In his speech, Trump took credit for the massive tax reforms, the 2.4 million jobs created in the last year, the lowest unemployment for African Americans, stock markets setting records adding $8 trillion in value and investments and manufacturing returning to the US.

Immigration issue figured prominently in Trump’s speech as he appealed for a “fair compromise”.

“It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society and who will love and respect our country,” he said.

Currently, Indian professionals have a 11-year wait to get their permanent resident status with green cards because of national quota restrictions. A purely merit-based system like those in Canada and Australia, which the administration has proposed, has the potential to help an estimated 500,000 Indian professionals in the queue get their green cards sooner.

Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla who was killed in a hate crime last year in Kansas, was a Congressional guest. She called the speech “welcoming and positive” on reforming immigration.

Trump offered to legalize those who were brought into the country illegally as children and ultimately give them citizenship, a move that could benefit over 5,500 Indians.

At the same time, he said “chain migration” of brothers, sisters and parents of immigrants should end. Limiting immigration to only spouses and children of immigrants would affect other aspiring immigrants from India.

Preventing illegal immigration would require building a wall on the southern border with Mexico and hiring more immigration and border security personnel, Trump said.

He called for a crackdown on criminal immigrants, particularly the members of gangs like the MS-13, which include many young people who entered the country under a programme of the administration of Barack Obama and are responsible for several murders.

In a manoeuvre that mirrors the dynastic bent of the Congress party in India, the Democratic Party brought out Joe Kennedy, the grandson of the late Robert Kennedy and grandnephew of John F. Kennedy, to deliver the party’s response to Trump.

The 37-year-old Congressman discounted every achievement that Trump claimed and attacked his agenda, delivering a part of his speech in Spanish.

On international matters, Trump focused on trade, military might and terrorism.

“The era of economic surrender is over,” he declared. “We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.”

In outlining his strategic perspective, Trump lumped China and Russia with rogue regimes and terrorist groups that “challenge our interests, our economy and our values”.

He included the nuclear arsenal in discussing his defence agenda.

“We must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal… making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression,” he said.

In fighting terrorism, Trump recalled his pledge “to extinguish the Islamic State from the face of the earth” and said the US and its allies have “liberated almost 100 per cent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria”.

“Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement,” Trump said, repeating a dig at Obama’s administration, saying, “along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines and we no longer tell our enemies our plans”.

Trump announced that he has signed an executive order to keep Guantánamo Bay military prison open in Cuba.

He also asked the Congress to enact laws to ensure that “American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to America’s friends”.

Iran and North Korea came in for special attention. Trump criticized the nuclear deal made by the US, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, with Iran to end its nuclear proliferation and also accused it of “destabilizing the region”.

“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” Trump said. “We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.”

In another criticism of his predecessors, Trump said: “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

Domestically, the centrepiece of his address was a $1.5 trillion programme he wanted from the Congress to rebuild and add to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land,” he said. “And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”

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