Why You Need To Pay Attention To Who Was Sitting Next To Melania Trump At The Joint Address

by Rachel Withers

Donald Trump will give his first address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, and his special guests — who will be sitting in the gallery with the First Lady — are likely to play a prominent role in his inflammatory rhetoric towards undocumented immigrants.

Half of the President’s six guests are family members of people killed by immigrants living in the country illegally. Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver are the widows of Detective Michael Davis Jr and Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver, California police officers killed in 2014, while Jamiel Shaw Sr, a high profile Trump advocate, lost his son Jamiel Jr in 2008. All three were killed by people in the country illegally.

While Davis, Oliver and Shaw are deserving of our sympathy, the example Trump is trying to make of their loved ones is inaccurate and unfair. They form part of his strategy to paint all undocumented immigrants as violent criminals, which is simply not the case. It’s likely tonight’s speech, like his campaign, is going to make reference to rampant crime rates as justification for clamping down on people living here illegally. 

Trump signing order January 27Image via Wikipedia Commons

Americans are tragically killed by violence every day, but there’s no evidence to suggest such violence is disproportionately carried out by undocumented immigrants. In fact, data consistently shows that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crime than native-born citizens, and that violent crime has dropped as immigration has risen.

Politifact points out that Trump has a tendency to leave out context in his sweeping claims about undocumented immigrants and crime. He has claimed “thousands of Americans’ have been killed by undocumented immigrants, but places no timeframe on his claims, making them probable but also meaningless. Trump has made sure to couch his actions against immigrants in terms of ‘public safety.’ The January 25 Executive Order which began this new crackdown on ‘removable aliens’ was entitled ‘ENHANCING PUBLIC SAFETY IN THE INTERIOR OF THE UNITED STATES,’ further demonizing undocumented immigrants and creating false justification for mass deportation (not to mention the wall). 

Trump’s use of these bereaved family members to represent those left behind calls to mind the Mothers of the Movement, who represent the African American women who have lost their children to police violence. But unlike the Mothers of the Movement, who are symbols of a widespread cultural issue, these bereaved victims, tragic as their circumstances are, do not represent a common occurence or systematic injustice. Exaggerating numbers and highlighting indiviudal cases does not a dangerous demographic make.

Look out for how many times he uses the phrase “illegal immigrant” tonight… and be ready to point out to your Trump supporting uncle/grandma/family friend on Facebook that there’s no such thing as an ‘illegal’ person. The words the President uses to describe a community are powerful, and Trump knows this.

According to the New York Times, symbolic guests at congressional speeches are not uncommon. “The president’s guests at a joint session of Congress are typically reflective of the administration’s priorities,” reports Emmarie Huetteman. “Presidents often reference their guests during their addresses, sometimes using their personal stories to illustrate their points.” In his final State of the Union address, Obama left one seat empty “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.”

This is also not the first time Trump has tried to make a contentious point out of innocent victims. In the second presidential debate, Trump tried to seat the women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault in his V.I.P. box, in order to make some kind of statement about his wife’s fitness for the presidency.

Trump has also invited Maureen McCarthy Scalia, the widow of Justice Antonin Scalia; Megan Crowley, a 20-year-old sophomore whose father founded a pharmaceutical company when she was a baby in order to develop a cure for her Pompe Disease diagnosis; and Denisha Merriweather, who claims her life was changed by attending a private school through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, and is held up as an example of the advantages of the school voucher system.

Top image via Wikipedia Commons

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