It’s of a piece with Donald Trump’s rejection of the “globalists” in this UN General Assembly address, but his lengthy focus on illegal immigration is worth highlighting. Trump declared his opposition to “a growing cottage industry of radical activists and non-governmental organizations” attempting to erase national borders. He accused them of promoting human trafficking and other “cruel and evil” policies, serving notice that he would strenuously defend US borders and eject illegal immigrants.
It didn’t get any applause at the UNGA, but you can bet it got cheers in MAGA country. It picks up at the 50-second mark:
Illegal immigration “undermines prosperity, rips apart societies, and empowers ruthless criminal cartels,” the president told world leaders Tuesday. “Today, I have a message for those open border activists who cloak themselves in the rhetoric of social justice,” he said. “Your policies are not just, your policies are cruel and evil. You are empowering criminal organizations that prey on innocent men, women, and children. You put your own false sense of virtue before the lives, well-being, and countless innocent people. When you undermine border security, you are undermining human rights and human dignity.”
Trump also issued a warning to anyone considering an unauthorized entry into the country. “To anyone conducting crossings of our border illegally please hear these words,” he said. “Do not pay the smugglers, do not pay the coyotes, do not put yourself in danger, do not put your children in danger, because if you make it here, you will not be allowed in. You will be promptly returned home. You will not be released into our country.”
One of the more surprising moments in this part of the speech was the praise showered on our southern border partner. “Mexico is showing us great respect,” Trump intoned, “and I respect them in return.” He lauded President Andrés Manuel López Obrador by name and thanked him for stepping up enforcement on their side of the border. That respect included a notable moment at the UNGA of having one head of government thanking another for parking thousands of troops on a shared border — if not a first at Turtle Bay, certainly notable nonetheless.
More curious is the lack of passion Trump mustered for the delivery of this portion of his address. Trump has done a good job of tempering his dynamic and extemporaneous style for more solemn occasions, but he usually manages to sound as though he’s doing more than reading off a script. The monotonous delivery got widely noticed, and some even joked that Trump had put Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to sleep at times.
Even with the noticeably flat delivery, though, Trump delivered a harsh and well-deserved rebuke to NGOs and activists that appear determined to undermine normal border enforcement. After more than two years of getting demonized by them, Trump clearly wants to turn the rhetorical tables. And not for no good reason, either — the people who organized the “caravans” over the last year created misery and hardship for thousands of people, all for no good reason other than soundbites. Those stunts pushed Trump to use trade tariffs to twist López Obrador’s arm into finally securing Mexico and dealing with the migration waves themselves. Combined with other bilateral initiatives in Central America, Trump has gone around Congress to strengthen the border, and in some cases despite Congress.
Trump wanted to spike the football on diplomacy’s biggest international stage, and warn that he won’t be intimidated. Even if that message got sent more quietly than usual, it still got delivered.