Trump Demonized and Lied About Immigrants at His Milwaukee Campaign Rally and We Barely Noticed

There is no migrant crime wave, immigrants and refugees make our cities better, and five years after the gilded escalator speech, it feels like Trump’s xenophobia and hate has been fully normalized.

The Recombobulation Area is a new weekly column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.

Donald Trump’s Milwaukee speech included a truly disgusting rant on immigration. Photo via Donald Trump campaign on Facebook.


It’s always going to be news when the president visits your city, and last week’s visit from President Trump was no different. There’s almost a formula to the Trump campaign visit at this point -- the large, frenzied crowd of supporters spending the day outside the arena; the wall-to-wall media coverage; the various groups of protestors; and eventually, the avalanche of lies and distortions (and rants about dishwashers, I guess) coming from the man on stage. 

The most disturbing and truly vile part of the rally, however, came and went without much notice.

Trump has made attacks on immigrants the foundation of his career in presidential politics going back to the very first vitriolic speech he gave after descending his gilded escalator and announcing his candidacy. It has been part of his candidacy and presidency for approaching five years now. It has never left, and it was fully present on stage in Milwaukee last week.

Here’s what he said, about two-thirds of the way through the campaign speech (full transcript here). 

Left wing politicians, I call them the Do Nothing Democrats, support deadly sanctuary cities, demonstrating their contempt, scorn and disdain for everyday Americans. These jurisdictions release dangerous, violent, criminal aliens out of their jails and directly onto your streets where they are free to rob, attack and murder American citizens. You have it right here. You have it right here.

Last year, ICE … I love ICE. I think they’re so great. You know, they moved thousands of MS-13 out of our country, thousands, and others too. But ICE officers in this region of our country arrested nearly 7,000 illegal aliens with criminal records. So you have 7,000 illegal aliens having criminal records, including those charged or convicted of murder, burglary, robbery, drug crimes, killings in the most violent way. Right here in Wisconsin, cities run by far left politicians are releasing dangerous criminal aliens who abuse, assault and threaten innocent children. Your children.

Last year, a place I like, the sanctuary County of Milwaukee, released an illegal alien criminal with multiple charges for sexual assault of child. Think of that, of children. He’s now at large. They’re searching all over and he’s looking for yet another victim. They’re searching all over. Allowed to go from your sanctuary city. In the city of Madison, police arrested an illegal alien for sexual assault. After authorities released him, he committed violent battery, only to be released one more time. They’re looking for him again. Isn’t that nice? The same illegal alien was then arrested for a third time in September and charged with multiple sexual assaults, including sexual assault of a child. Now that criminal is once again in Wisconsin jail and I call on your left wing officials to stop the madness and to work with ICE to ensure he is deported the hell back home. Get him out of our country.

Hearing that speech and seeing those words and recognizing just how little this truly vile attack and gross generalization of people who’ve immigrated to our city resonated amidst all the coverage from every direction that night goes to show just how much of Trumpism has been normalized in these five short-but-interminable years. This was pure venom, and it should be condemned.

Back in 2015, perhaps these words are treated with the serious they require, and condemned as the fear-mongering, race-baiting, borderline hate-speech they are, but now, these are just things the president says on a Tuesday night when he passes through town.

“He’s using nativism and xenophobia for political gain,” said Dr. Rachel Ida Buff, professor of history and comparative ethnic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the author of the forthcoming book A is for Asylum Seeker: Words for People on the Move/ A de Asilo: Palabras para Personas en Movimiento. “He’s whipping people up into a fear.”

And furthermore, in case it isn’t blindingly obvious, “None of this is true,” Buff said of Trump’s anti-immigrant tirade. “You can sort of see traces of where a very deluded person might get some of these ideas, but there are no facts here.” 

Facts about what Trump said about a supposed “illegal alien criminal” in Milwaukee County were, perhaps not surprisingly, nonexistent. That doesn’t necessarily mean that something like what he described didn’t happen, but government and law enforcement agencies, including the Milwaukee Police Department and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, were not able to verify or confirm any information about these alleged crimes mentioned by the president. (A post-rally fact check by Channel 3000 showed what could probably best be described as a distortion of a case similar to that which he described happening in Madison, but they did not confirm if that was what the president was referring to).

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Regardless of these incidents, whether distorted or completely fabricated, what’s certainly isn’t true is that there is not a vast immigrant crime wave enveloping Wisconsin’s two largest cities.

First, and this might need to be shouted or repeated ad nauseam, there is no vast immigrant crime wave enveloping our cities that we should be fearful of. That’s because it simply isn’t happening. It is a verifiable fact that immigrants commit fewer crimes than Americans who were born in this country. 

“If you take any category of people — if you take blondes, or redheads, or people with mustaches, or people who like funny hats, whatever — some of those people will be rapists and murderers,” said Buff. “Any category of people, some of the people are bad. However, all studies — and there are a lot of them — show that foreign-born people, be them documented or undocumented, commit crimes at rates far lower than those who are native born. There is no evidence, absolutely no evidence, for the wave of illegal immigrant crime that is cited in the (president’s speech). This does not happen. Yes, horrible stuff happens. People do horrible stuff. Sometimes, some of those people are undocumented, but far fewer.”

There’s also the issue of the “7,000 illegal aliens having criminal records,” which Buff says is a “bit of sophistry, because the criminal records are their illegal status,” since undocumented crossing became federal misdemeanor in 1929, meaning that if you cross the border without papers, then you are undocumented, which is technically a crime. “There’s a little bit of tricky footwork going on there,” she added. 

It’s yet another lie or distortion or at the expense of vulnerable people of color, people who are coming to this country, as millions have before them, in search of a better life. 

Additionally, Milwaukee is not a full-on sanctuary cities the way a place like New York City is (though, maybe it should be). 

“We have some weak pro-immigrant policies that you could call, if you were imaginative, “sanctuary-ish,”” said Buff. These include a Milwaukee County policy calling for the county to be welcoming to immigrants, and a Milwaukee Public Schools safe harbor policy that says the school will not collaborate with ICE to facilitate deportation of students, parents or families, and a recently adopted policy at the city level to discourage Milwaukee Police Department-ICE collaboration and require a judicial warrant if MPD were to collaborate with ICE. (Immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera fought for a change in policy after Milwaukeean Jose de la Cruz spent 70 days inside an immigration detention facility in Dodge County after MPD and ICE coordinated to arrest him in front of his wife and children). 

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And we can’t forget that immigration has significant benefit for those of us living here in America, and here in Milwaukee, too. According to a landmark 2016 study from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, the Milwaukee metro region’s net growth since 2000, both in population and employment, is almost entirely attributable to the growth of the Latino population. There are now more than 160,000 Hispanic people living in the Milwaukee area. Since 2000, more than 92 percent of metro Milwaukee’s population growth has been because of immigration and the growth of the Hispanic population. For the city, the growth has been even greater.

This is making Milwaukee a better city. Immigration is making Milwaukee a better city. It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without it. 

It also speaks to this city’s history. This is a city of immigrants. And along with immigration, Milwaukee has also long been a “center for refugee arrivals,” said Buff.

“We have the largest, in Milwaukee, population of Rohingya refugees in the country. We have a growing population of Somali and Eritrean migrants. We have Muslim migrants from Palestine, Iran, Iraq. Wherever there’s refugee migration, we have a fair population of refugees in our city,” she said. “We have been historically, in Milwaukee in particular, a receiving community for Germans and Poles and Italians and Irish and Jews, from Germany and then from Eastern Europe. We’ve always been a refugee and immigrant city and we still are.”

“Back to when it was only an indigenous place before European arrivals, Milwaukee was always a really cosmopolitan city,” she added. “It always had Potawatomi and Menomonee and Ho Chunk and Ojibwe people living here. We’ve always been a meeting city. We’ve always had our three rivers and many different kinds of people. That’s what we’ve always been. That’s how we’ve always lived. That’s who we are as a city.”

Refugees and immigrants are making Milwaukee a better city. As Dr. Buff says, it’s part of who we are.

There’s hope for Milwaukee’s future that lies in our immigrant communities. We need more immigration in this city and in this state and in this country. We need to live the purported values of this nation of immigrants and be a more welcoming people to refugees, immigrants and other vulnerable populations. 

We also need to stand up and condemn the blatant xenophobia and weaponized hate coming from the president himself. What Donald Trump said in Milwaukee last week is unacceptable. It was deceitful, it was harmful, and it invites cruelty. If this type of vitriolic venom has become normalized over the last five years, I shudder to think what the next five years will bring if this hate is legitimized with re-election. We need to put a stop to this in any way we can. And that means speaking out and fighting for policies that protect people — and that also means voting in November for a candidate who is not Donald Trump.


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