Trump takes night off from anti-immigrant talk to swear in US citizens

US President Donald Trump invited five immigrants to a White House naturalisation ceremony.
US President Donald Trump invited five immigrants to a White House naturalisation ceremony.PHOTO: DONALD J. TRUMP/TWITTER

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump moved within weeks of taking office to prohibit immigrants from Sudan from entering the United States, citing terrorism threats and including it in his travel ban on some predominantly Muslim countries - restrictions that remain partly in place today.

But Tuesday (Aug 25), when Trump wanted to portray himself as pro-immigrant, he invited Neimat Abdelazim Awadelseid, a Sudanese woman who had just qualified to become a US citizen, and four others to a White House naturalisation ceremony that his reelection campaign featured prominently during the Republican National Convention.

The president's willingness to use the trappings of presidential power during a campaign convention was a striking departure from previous presidents who avoided so blatantly blurring the lines between official actions and political activity.

And Trump's declaration that "we welcome five absolutely incredible new members into our great American family" stands in stark contrast to his anti-immigrant policies, often fueled by xenophobic language.

His decision to preside over the naturalisation ceremony appeared aimed at suburbanites, people of color and women put off by his usually strident talk.

Awadelseid, 66, a substitute teacher who works with Sudanese children in her suburban Virginia community, said in an interview that "it is hard for my country" to be subject to travel restrictions but that it was an honor to visit the White House.

"It is a special moment, to get it from a president of the United States, to give me the citizenship," she said.

Awadelseid, who received a master's degree and a doctorate from the University of Wyoming, has lived full time in the United States since 2000.

She said she did not like to talk about politics and did not say whether she was surprised that her ceremony was broadcast during the convention.

But others, including Sudha Sundari Narayanan, 35, who was also among the five people sworn in at the White House, said they had not been told.

"I was surprised and shocked and excited," said Narayanan, who immigrated to the United States in 2007 from India.

 
 
 
 

Narayanan, who said she did not have an opinion about Trump's immigration policies, said she found out that the ceremony aired during the convention only when an excited friend called her later that night telling her she was on television.

"I never dreamed that something like this would happen," Narayanan said.

"I'm just a very simple girl trying to get my family running."

Salih Abdul Samad, a Ghanaian chef, also did not know that the event would be broadcast during the convention.

By Wednesday morning, he had received messages from friends around the world about his new fame.

"When you call me, you have to go through security background checks because I'm a star," Abdul Samad, 44, joked.

He added that he was thankful for the United States, particularly the Affordable Care Act, which he said saved his life when his kidneys failed six years ago.

"I'm so ever grateful to this country for what they've given me," Abdul Samad said.

The decision by Trump's campaign to feature the naturalisation ceremony angered some senior officials with US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the naturalisation process.

Several expressed frustration with what they described as a politicised event.

Of all the contradictions about a White House naturalisation ceremony during the Republican National Convention, the starkest of all may be that Trump started an initiative seeking to potentially strip the citizenship status of thousands of people - a departure from the past several decades of practice and Supreme Court precedent.

Trump's Justice Department announced in 2018 a goal of filing 1,600 denaturalisation cases, a major acceleration of the previous use of denaturalisation.

Fewer than 150 people had been denaturalised in American courts in the previous 50 years, almost all of them Nazis, war criminals or people who were convicted of federal crimes tied to large-scale immigration fraud.

The president has largely blocked asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing persecution, war and violence.

He has built nearly 480km of border wall (though without persuading Mexico to pay for it, as he once insisted).

He has made it harder for poor people to immigrate to the United States, imposed travel bans on predominantly Muslim countries and separated migrant children from their parents at the border.

At times, he has used racist messaging, condemning "shithole countries" and complaining that people from Haiti "have Aids."

Abdul Samad said Wednesday that he found the president's comments about African nations as "very painful," but he was "very very honored and grateful" to Trump for inviting him to the White House.

"That doesn't mean that I can't criticise him or I won't criticise him when he does something bad or something I feel is not good," Abdul Samad said.