By Susan McFarland and Ray Downs – UPI
President Donald Trump delivered his first official State of the Union address Tuesday night and touted the growing economy and his administration’s push for tax reform.
“The state of our union is strong because our people are strong,” Trump said. “And together we are building a safe, strong and proud America.”
Trump cited several numbers to show that the U.S. economy is on the upswing, including improved job numbers and low unemployment rates.
“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone,” Trump said, adding: “After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages. And African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.”
Later in the speech, Trump blasted current immigration policies and said he would push for reforms to benefit all Americans.
“Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families,” Trump said. “For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against of the poorest Americans.”
Trump proposed “four pillars” for an immigration plan.
The first pillar addressed the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, enacted via executive order by former President Barack Obama but never put into law and set to expire in March. Trump said his plan would provide a pathway to citizenship for all DACA recipients, as well as those who qualify for the program but never applied, bring the total number to approximately 1.8 million people.
“That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered,” Trump said.
“The second pillar fully secures the border,” Trump continued. “That means building a great wall on the southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like cj to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country.”
Trump’s third pillar called for an end to the diversity visa lottery, which grants visas to about 50,000 people per year from countries with low immigration rates to the United States.
The president called the program one that “randomly plans out green cards without regard for skill, merit or the safety of American people.”
The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration.
“Under the current, broken system, a single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” Trump said. “Under our plan we focus on the immediate family by eliminating sponsorships — by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”
“These four pillars represent a down the middle compromise and one that will create a safe, modern and lawful immigration system,” he added. “For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen. Most importantly, these four pillars will produce legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to sign a bill that puts America first.”
Trump addressed several foreign policy issues, including the reversal of Obama’s 2009 order to review the possibility of closing Guantanamo Bay, although the military base where suspected enemy combatants are held without trial was never closed.
Trump said his order will “re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay.”
The president also addressed one of the countries in which the United States is at war in — Afghanistan.
“As of a few months ago, our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement,” Trump said. “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 did not go into specifics about the U.S. military’s further plans for Afghanistan.
The president then criticized North Korea for its “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles.”
“We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening,” he said.
Earlier in the speech, Trump called for prison reform “to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”
Trump also said he would push for legislation that allows patients with terminal illnesses to have access to experimental treatments.
“People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home,” Trump said. “It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the ‘right to try.'”
He also called for reducing the cost of prescription drugs, calling it one of his “greatest priorities.”
“In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States,” Trump said. “That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down substantially. Watch.”
The president ended the speech praising American contributions to the world, and U.S. workers.
“Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again,” Trump said. “As long as we are proud of who we are, and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve.
“As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will not fail. Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper. And our Nation will forever be safe and strong and proud and mighty and free.”