In Warren, Trump touts USMCA, vows to end Chaldean deportations

By: - January 31, 2020 6:08 am

President Donald J. Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Tuesday, May 14, 2019, en route to Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, La. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

Hours before heading to Iowa for a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally Thursday evening, President Donald Trump made a stop to tour the Dana Inc. manufacturing plant in Warren and make a relatively quick 30-minute speech to supporters and plant workers.

There, the newly impeached president boasted about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA) he signed in a GOP-exclusive White House ceremony on Wednesday. Trump also gave shoutouts to several Republican state lawmakers in attendance, including U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden), John Moolenaar (R-Midland), Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) and Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland). 

The only Republican member of the delegation who wasn’t there was U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who has broken with Trump on some key executive power votes and is being targeted by Democrats in his reelection.

Trump is expected to campaign hard in Macomb County, which is best-known for its auto worker population and was key to his 10,704-vote win in 2016. Now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer scored a narrow victory in the metro Detroit county two years ago, however. 

Not coincidentally, Whitmer has been tapped to give the official Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The Warren event — Trump’s first visit to Michigan this year — was a much smaller affair than his two campaign stops in the Mitten State last year, raucous rallies in Grand Rapids and Battle Creek.

Trump arrived at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township and was greeted by state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) — who attended both of the president’s 2019 Michigan events — and, surprisingly, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, now president for the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM). 

Calley, who frequently champions civility, withdrew his endorsement in 2016 after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out with Trump bragging about sexual assault, which almost certainly contributed to the then-LG’s deep loss to now-former Attorney General Bill Schuette in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary. 

In his brief speech in Warren, Trump made his usual jabs at his 2016 opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wildly misremembered crowd sizes in 2016, and promised to stop deporting Chaldeans.

Exaggerated crowd size

While reminiscing about his very last campaign stop as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 — as he’s frequently done — Trump inflated the crowd count at his Nov. 7 downtown Grand Rapids rally versus the audience size for Clinton, who had squeezed in an event in at nearby Grand Valley State University just hours before.

Trump said he wasn’t scheduled to be in Grand Rapids before the election, but decided to make one last stop in Michigan when he heard Clinton would be traveling to the area, too.

“They say, ‘Sir, your opponent is heading to Michigan,’ and that wasn’t scheduled either. What did that mean to me? That meant that she had problems. … I said, that means there must be trouble in Michigan,” Trump said.

“And so, on no notice, we had 32,000 people show up. … And Hillary, ‘Crooked Hillary’ as I call her, she had a small gathering of about 400 people.”

Both numbers are far from accurate. 

In reality, Trump spoke to an at-capacity venue of about 4,200 people that night. That’s almost eight times fewer people than he claims it held.

And while Trump claims Clinton was only able to attract 400 people to her final Michigan rally at GVSU, the fire marshal’s estimate that night put her crowd at about 4,600.

A promise to protect Chaldeans

Early on in his speech, Trump seemed to promise relief for Chaldeans in Michigan. Many Iraqi Christians are living with the threat of deportation, despite facing persecution in Iraq, as the Trump administration has initiated a suite of immigration restrictions since taking office.

Trump talked about how it’s been a “very tough time” for “Christians all over the world” before bringing the attention to Michigan’s Chaldean’s population. An estimated 121,000 Chaldeans reside in metro Detroit, which is the world’s largest population outside of Iraq.

“I know you have a wonderful Iraqi Christian community in Michigan … they’re wonderful,” Trump said.

“The congressman [Moolenaar] was telling me on the plane how rough it’s been for them,” he added. “It’s been a very tough time for a lot of Christians all over the world.  … We have some Chaldeans that are working here. And we talked about it long and hard on the flight in, and we’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm’s way. And when I get back [to Washington, D.C.], we’re going to give those who need it [a visa] extension to stay in our country.”

Trump didn’t give any details about who would be eligible or how it would work.

Last summer, Jimmy Aldaoud, an Iraqi national who lived most of his life in the United States, was deported to Iraq, despite vocal protests about the risk to his health. He died shortly afterward from diabetic complications, drawing national outrage.

Both Moolenaar and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) said at the time that Aldaoud’s death never should have occurred. The two congressmen introduced a bill in May aimed at stopping Iraqi deportations and have attempted to appeal to both Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who have advocated against Christian persecution around the globe. 

This is part of a larger crackdown from the Trump administration on immigrants. Earlier this week, an Iranian Michigan State University graduate student with a valid visa was detained overnight at the Detroit Metro Airport and then deported.

A statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which detained and deported the student, did not clarify the reason for denying Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani admission to the United States.

Following Trump’s remarks, Levin released a statement condemning his administration for starting the problem in the first place with aggressive deportation rules. His 9th Congressional District spanning Macomb and Oakland counties has the highest proportion of Iraqi-born people of any in the nation.

“It should be noted that Iraqi nationals face these precarious circumstances only because President Trump broke with past administrations and started aggressively deporting Iraqis,” Levin said. “The president’s words inspire me with cautious optimism, but let me be extremely clear — relief must be extended to all Iraqi nationals who would face danger if they are deported against their will.”

The congressman added that he plans to reach out to the Trump administration to make sure the president follows through on his promise.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.