Fifteen years after the fact, Donald Trump is trying to make 9/11 into an illegal immigration issue.
Trump said on Fox News Sunday, “I am extremely, extremely tough on illegal immigration. I’m extremely tough on people coming into this country. I believe that if I were running things, I doubt those people would have been in the country.”
“With that being said, I’m not blaming George Bush. But I don’t want Jeb Bush saying, ‘My brother kept us safe,’ because Sept. 11 was one of the worst days in the history of this country.”
Bush fired back, saying the real estate mogul’s comments about the Sept. 11 attacks show that he is not serious about being commander in chief — the central theme of his new Web ad attacking Trump.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Bush likened Trump’s approach foreign policy to hosting a reality TV show or playing a board game: “Literally, talking about Syria, saying ‘ISIS should take out Assad, then Russia should take out ISIS,’ as though it was some kind of board game and not a serious approach.” ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State militant group.
Every time Bush opens his mouth to respond to Trump’s accusations about his brother, he digs a deeper hole. It’s an argument he can’t win and many believe it is loyalty to his brother that is forcing him to comment.
On Sunday, Bush continued to defend his brother: “Look, my brother responded to a crisis, and he did it as you would hope a president would do. He united the country, he organized our country, and he kept us safe. And there’s no denying that. The great majority of Americans believe that.”
He brushed off host Jake Tapper’s question about whether his loyalty may be blinding him to the mistakes made during his brother’s presidency.
“No. I mean, so next week, Mr. Trump is probably going to say that FDR was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s what you do after that matters. And that’s the sign of leadership,” Bush said.
Whatever you believe Bush did after 9/11, Trump is making a “buck stops here” point that is relevant to any discussion about 9/11.
But what about Trump’s claim that tough enforcement of immigration policies would have kept the 9/11 hijackers out of the country?
Here, Trump is on shaky ground. All 19 hijackers entered the country legally on authentic visas. As it turned out, three of the hijackers saw their visas expire, making them illegal at the time of the attacks. But as the Center for Immigration Studies pointed out in 2002, terrorists as illegal aliens is not the problem:
But in fact the danger cannot be isolated to one type of immigration. Foreign-born Islamic terrorists have used almost every conceivable means of entering the country over the last decade. They have come as students, tourists, and business visitors. They have also been lawful permanent residents (LPRs) and naturalized U.S. citizens. They have sneaked across the border illegally, arrived as stowaways on ships, used false passports, or been granted amnesty. Terrorists have even exploited America’s humanitarian tradition of welcoming those seeking asylum. At the time they committed their crimes, 16 of the 48 terrorists considered in this analysis were on temporary visas (primarily tourist visas); another 17 were lawful permanent residents or naturalized U.S. citizens; 12 were illegal aliens; and 3 of the 48 had applications for asylum pending.
Even some government officials have mistakenly singled out one type of immigration as the source of the problem. During testimony before the immigration subcommittee in the Senate shortly after the September attacks, INS commissioner James Ziglar stated, “Immigrants are not terrorists…. The people that we are talking about, the hijackers, they weren’t immigrants. They were nonimmigrants.” While it is certainly true that the September 11 hijackers entered the country using nonimmigrant visas (also called temporary visas), the commissioner is incorrect if his comments were meant to indicate that permanent residents are not a source of terrorism. In fact, prior to September 11, most foreign terrorists were LPRs or nationalized U.S. citizens. Excluding the hijackers, more than half (17 out of 28) of the foreign-born Islamic terrorists in the last decade were persons living legally in the United States as permanent residents or as naturalized citizens.
So Trump is partly right. At least some of the terrorists who attacked us should have been deported for overstaying their visas. It is doubtful that would have foiled the plot, however, as there were enough pilots among the hijackers to have flown all the planes.
It’s sad to see Trump raising this issue continuously, as it does the party he is seeking to lead absolutely no good. As for aiming his criticism at Jeb Bush, it may excite his core supporters to go after a RINO, but it’s looking more and more as if Jeb is on the verge of dropping out. Why waste time on someone who may not even be a candidate by the time the next debate rolls around?
Refighting the 9/11 debate only helps the Democrats. Trump should realize this and just drop the subject.