News Brief: Trump Rally, Israel Controversy, Immigrant Workers

Aug 16, 2019
Originally published on August 16, 2019 6:25 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump had a lot of ground to cover at a campaign rally in New Hampshire last night, from growing concerns about the economy to the recent mass shootings.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It was the president's first rally since shootings in Texas and Ohio left 31 people dead. And speaking to a crowd of more than 10,000 last night, he avoided any discussion of his earlier calls to pass background check legislation. Instead, Donald Trump focused again on the issue of mental illness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are working very hard to make sure we keep guns out of the hands of insane people and those who are mentally sick and shouldn't have guns.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: But people have to remember, however, that there is a mental illness problem that has to be dealt with. It's not the gun that pulls the trigger. It's the person holding the gun.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: The president also made a big push for his economic record, despite a volatile week for the stock market.

GREENE: And NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us. She traveled with the president to New Hampshire. Hi there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So help me understand this. It almost sounds like two different presidents. You had President Trump recently bringing up the idea of background checks, so-called red flag laws. There's been a lot of conversation about these ideas in Washington. But then, out on the campaign trail, sounds different.

KEITH: Right. So let's just be very clear. The president has done this before - and it looks like he's doing it again - where, after a mass shooting, he takes a seemingly strong position in favor of gun control, and then gradually he backs away from that position. And that looks like what is happening. As you say, right after the attacks, he tweeted that he wanted strong background checks. He, in an address to the nation, endorsed what's known as red flag laws to enable law enforcement to temporarily take weapons from someone deemed to be a danger to themself (ph) or others.

But in that speech last night, he didn't mention either of those things. And as you heard in that clip, one of the biggest applause lines of the entire night was him saying that it isn't guns that pull the trigger. It's people that pull the trigger. He even talked about building new mental institutions, something - they were shut down a generation ago.

And reporters traveling with the president, including me, pressed him on what his position is now, especially on background checks. And he really kept dodging the question and even said that, you know, Republicans could come up with good legislation, but he argued Democrats would probably just sink it by asking for more.

GREENE: All right. One - another topic that sounded like it really played a role last night was the economy. The president was making his pitch to voters. Let's just listen to a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: See, the bottom line is I know you like me, and this room is a love fest. I know that. But you have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)'s down the tubes.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Everything's going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.

GREENE: Even if you hate me, you got to vote for me. What's he trying to say here?

KEITH: Well, you know, his supporters have long said they wanted him to focus on the economy. Well, in this speech, he finally did focus on the economy, in a week when people don't even want to check their 401(k) balances.

GREENE: And he did bring up the two Democratic congresswoman who have - although we're covering news that this might be changing - but they had been banned by Israel, banned from coming into Israel.

KEITH: Yeah. And I asked him about his role in that. And he wouldn't really commit. He said, I don't encourage or discourage. But he said that Israel really shouldn't let them in.

GREENE: OK. And I should be clear. It did not come up in the rally. That came up before the rally - right? - talking to reporters. Is that right?

KEITH: Exactly, on the tarmac in New Jersey.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks as always.

KEITH: You're welcome.

GREENE: All right. It appears now, as I just mentioned, that things might be changing in Israel. Israel appears to be walking back its decision to deny Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib entry to its country.

MARTIN: Right, or at least allowing her a limited visit. This morning, Israel is saying it is granting Tlaib her request to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank. It's not clear whether the ban still applies to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. But the restriction against both congresswomen came as a huge surprise yesterday. Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said just last month that Israel would not block any member of Congress from visiting.

Then, yesterday, President Trump weighed in, saying in a tweet, quote, "Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democratic Party, and they hate Israel," end quote. Not long after that tweet, Israel announced that the two Democrats weren't going to be allowed to come. Both Omar and Tlaib have been very critical of Israel's policies. Israel has been critical of their support for a boycott.

GREENE: All right. A lot to cover here. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Daniel, let's just start with why Representatives Oman and Tlaib were coming in the first place.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Right. Well, a Palestinian trip organizer I spoke to said that the two congresswomen wanted to see how U.S. policies impact Palestinians. For instance, they were going to visit a hospital that lost funding when the Trump administration cut aid money for Palestinians. And then they were also going to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank, and they were going to meet Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists.

GREENE: And then, when the ban happened, how did Israel explain the decision to not let them into the country?

ESTRIN: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a lengthy statement. He said Israeli law bans people who actively advocate a boycott of Israel. And, you know, indeed, these congresswomen are minority voices in the Democratic Party who do support the boycott movement. And Netanyahu said the purpose of their trip was to harm Israel and increase incitement against it. And the evidence that he provided was that their itinerary listed their destination as Palestine and also did not include Israeli officials.

But, you know, David there's also a political calculation that we should mention, which is that Netanyahu is running for re-election next month. And this really helps him score points with his right-wing base. And there's Trump. Trump gave Netanyahu a lot of support in the last Israeli elections, and Netanyahu needs his support again. So when Trump tweeted that he didn't think Israel should let these congresswomen in, Netanyahu didn't.

GREENE: OK. And what reaction did you hear to the - to Netanyahu's decision to, at least initially, ban both of them from coming?

ESTRIN: Well, a lot of the Israeli and Palestinian activists who were scheduled to meet with the congresswomen are writing on social media about what they had hoped to show the congresswomen. Take a listen to Danny Seidemann. He's a left-wing Israeli expert. He was supposed to give them a tour of Palestinian areas of Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL SEIDEMANN: I would show the congresswomen the occupation of East Jerusalem, its mechanics and how it can be addressed. Netanyahu's Israel is hellbent on preventing people from seeing that reality.

ESTRIN: And then there is some support among Israelis for this ban that we hear.

GREENE: And so now, the news we get this morning - Congresswoman Tlaib's request to visit her grandmother has been granted. Any indication that Congresswoman Omar will get to come as well?

ESTRIN: No indication of that. But I am hearing from Palestinian activists who are really upset that Tlaib is bowing - what they say - to Trump and Netanyahu's pressure.

GREENE: All right. A lot to follow here. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks a lot.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: We want to follow up now on a story we covered last week out of Mississippi. That's where several food processing plants were hit by immigration raids, the largest in a decade.

MARTIN: Those companies are now trying to fill hundreds of open positions that 680 mostly Latino workers previously held. One of the companies even held a job fair this week. Across the country, immigrants often do manual jobs that are pretty low-paying. Employers say they have no choice but to rely on them. And all of this brings up this very old debate, right? Who will do these jobs if not immigrant workers?

GREENE: And NPR's John Burnett visited one restaurant owner who is wrestling with this very issue. And he joins us this morning. Hi there, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So tell me about the business, this restaurant you visited, and why you chose this establishment to do a story on.

BURNETT: Right. Well, first off, I'm not naming the restaurant or even the type of cuisine or the city. It's in the state of Missouri. And the proprietor, she's just very paranoid in this climate of ICE raids about being identified. Her name is Lynn. She has six employees, 14 tables. And most of her employees are undocumented from Mexico. Really, it's not special. It's just a snapshot of one small employer. She said it could be any restaurant in America.

The Pew Research Center tells us that about a tenth of the workers in American restaurants are here illegally. That's a little over a million. And you don't find them waiting on tables. They're cooking, bussing tables and cleaning up. These giant chicken plant raids left a lot of people asking - so the workers were undocumented. But as you asked, you know, who will do these jobs? And some can be very unattractive, hard work, just like these restaurant kitchens. Here's Lynn on why she says she can't get U.S. citizens to stay on the job.

LYNN: The people that come in and apply to take our jobs will show up for one shift. They will not be clean. They will not probably be sober. They will ask for their money at the end of the shift, and then they will not come back for the second shift.

GREENE: OK. So that's her argument there. But John, I mean, the - she is breaking the law officially, right? I mean, how does she get around a federal rule that all of her employees have to have valid Social Security numbers in order to collect a paycheck?

BURNETT: Right. It's a sleight of hand that's practiced throughout the American workplace, whether they're processing chicken in these huge plants or cooking chicken in a small cafe like this. And we know that unauthorized workers are mostly found in agriculture and construction, in the hospitality industry. And all those employers have to see Social Security cards. Lynn's longtime kitchen manager is Jaime. He told me that he paid $60 for his fake Social Security card to an underground seller when he first came to the U.S. 21 years ago.

JAIME: Well, we had to pay to get a Social. We know there is illegal. But if we don't have that, we not going to have jobs. We not going to have nothing else. So we had to do that to work.

BURNETT: I did ask Jaime, if he had a green card and work authorization, would he still cook there? He said he gets $16 an hour, and he really likes his job.

GREENE: So John, the Trump administration's argument is this is all about hiring Americans. That's a big reason why ICE agents are raiding workplaces.

BURNETT: Right.

GREENE: So I guess, what do you make of that argument? What would happen if agents, say, hit this restaurant?

BURNETT: So I asked her that. And she said if ICE raided this little cafe, which is highly unlikely - I mean, they want bigger targets - she says they would just shut it down, and she would sell all her equipment off. I put that same dilemma to Mark Krikorian. He's director of the Center for Immigration Studies, the Washington, D.C., think tank for less overall immigration. And he said basically, if one restaurant closes down, you know, that's - they close down every day. The labor market is tighter, and restaurants are going to have to come up with a smarter way to recruit and retain workers.

GREENE: NPR's John Burnett. John, thanks a lot.

BURNETT: You bet, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "DREAMSTATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.