At a summit with the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico in Ottawa, a reporter asked at a joint press conference if they had discussed Trump’s sometimes caustic rhetoric toward Mexico and if the mogul’s populist campaign affected the trade negotiations among the three countries.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto began by saying his government would respect the outcome of the U.S. election, which he described as a domestic matter, according to the summit’s translation of Peña Nieto’s remarks.
Obama, speaking next and without saying Trump’s name, was far more forceful in his denunciation of the presumptive GOP nominee.
“I think I’ve made myself clear, setting aside whatever the candidates are saying, that America is a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. “That’s our strength. Unless, you are one of the first Americans unless you are a Native American, somebody, somewhere in your past showed up from someplace else. And they didn’t always have papers.”
Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals have sparked a number of firestorms throughout the campaign. Among other things, Trump launched his White House bid with a speech accusing the Mexican government of sending criminals across the U.S. border. He also proposed temporarily barring Muslim tourists and immigrants from entering the U.S.
But Obama insisted Wednesday that it was nothing new for anti-immigration views to be “exploited by demagogues.”
“It was directed at the Irish. It was directed at Poles and Italians. And you can go back and read what was said about those groups,” the president recalled. “And it’s identical what they’re now saying about Mexicans or Guatemalans or Salvadorans or Muslims or Asians. Same stuff: ‘They’re different. They’re not going to fit. They won’t assimilate. They bring crime.’ Same arguments.”
“But guess what? They kept coming. And they kept coming because America offered possibility for their children and their grandchildren. And even if they were initially discriminated against, they understood that our system will over time allow them to become part of this one American family. And so we should take some of this rhetoric seriously and answer it boldly and clearly. But you shouldn’t think that is representative of how the American people think.”
He also stressed that illegal immigration had fallen under his administration and that the next president would have to tackle the broader problems within the U.S. immigration system.
“I’m pushing very hard and will continue to push until I leave this office, and expect our next president to push for a comprehensive immigration reform plan that can fix those aspects of the system that are broken so that we remain a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.