A ‘renewal of the American spirit’? After Trump’s speech, immigration advocates in L.A. aren’t swayed

About a dozen people gathered Tuesday at UCLA's Labor Center to watch President Trump's speech to Congress.
(Andrea Castillo / Los Angeles Times)

At an intimate viewing party at the UCLA Labor Center, close to a dozen people sat on folding chairs Tuesday evening to watch NBC News’ live feed of President Trump’s first speech to Congress.

When Trump mentioned in his second sentence that Tuesday marked the conclusion of Black History Month and that work remains to be done, some viewers at the center brought their hands to their temples in exasperation and giggled.

They didn’t believe Trump would bring, as he said, “the renewal of the American spirit.”

Annotated transcript: President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress »


Viewers shook their heads when he said America must put its citizens first.

R.J., a health fellow with the UCLA Dream Resource Center through Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the contradictions in Trump’s speech stood out to him, especially the president’s initial call for unity but subsequent vilification of immigrants and Muslims.

He declined to give his last name, saying he is in the country illegally and wants to protect his family.

Immigrants aren’t saints. They aren’t demons — they’re just people.

— Cinthia Flores, director of the Dream Resource Center, UCLA

R.J. noted that Trump referenced the families of people killed by immigrants in the country illegally but not people killed by law enforcement officers, or those who died in immigrant detention facilities.

“If we are trying to get an overview of how America is, how come those victims are left out?” he said. “Those people also have families that will never be able to see them again.”

R.J. also focused on Trump’s insistence on repealing the Affordable Care Act. He said many of the principles Trump mentioned, including making sure that people with preexisting health conditions have access to affordable insurance, are already addressed by ACA.


Trump’s talk of building a “great, great wall” along the southern border drew furrowed brows and glares from the group. The mention of “radical Islamic terrorism” caused deep exhales.

“We want all Americans to succeed, but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos,” Trump said.

Cinthia Flores directs the Dream Resource Center, which does research, education and policy work on immigration issues. She said Trump’s speech included nothing new. Rather, Flores said, it was a continuation of his repeated anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Immigrants aren’t saints,” she said. “They aren’t demons — they’re just people.”

Flores said the speech reaffirmed much of the work the dream center and other pro-immigrant organizations do, including creating safe spaces for immigrants and combating Trump’s narrative of immigrants as criminals and abusers of social services. One of the center’s main projects is an art exhibit that highlights the stories of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

As the speech went on, some people tweeted, wrote posts on Facebook or took notes.

Justino Mora, a UCLA graduate who co-founded the website Undocumedia, tweeted that people should pay close attention to what Trump says about people of color. “He will try to divide & pit us against each other,” Mora wrote.

Mora is a beneficiary of the Obama administration’s deportation relief program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He said Trump’s proposed office for victims of immigrant crime will cause paranoia by lifting up isolated cases. Immigrants should not be used as scapegoats for all crimes, he said.


“We have to be careful about what will happen (over the) next couple weeks or months,” Mora said after the speech. “His rhetoric is going to translate to policy.”

Twitter: @andreamcastillo


For Muslim Americans, Trump’s speech to Congress reaffirms fears

President Trump’s speech to Congress: A big shift in tone, but tough choices left to Congress


Here are the stories of Trump’s speech guests whose relatives were killed by people in the U.S. illegally

Annotated transcript: President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress