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'Cynical' as Well as 'Insultingly Illegal': Critics Blast Anti-Immigrant Trump for Exploiting Naturalization Ceremony at RNC

"It sickened me to my core to watch that spectacle given every directive this administration has taken from day one to demonize immigrant communities, including naturalized ones."

In this screenshot from the RNC's livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, President Donald Trump hosts a naturalization ceremony for new citizens in a pre-recorded video broadcasted during the virtual convention on August 25, 2020. (Photo: Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

As massive backlogs across the U.S. prevent tens of thousands of immigrants from becoming citizens and voters, President Donald Trump—who has spent much of his term demonizing and terrorizing immigrants through rhetoric and policy—hosted a naturalization ceremony at the White House for five new citizens Tuesday on the second night of the Republican National Convention.

Rights advocates and commentators were appalled by the president's "cynical" and likely unlawful exploitation of five new citizens from Bolivia, Lebanon, India, Sudan, and Ghana to paint himself as pro-immigrant in the service of his reelection efforts even as mass deportations and other anti-immigrant administration policies continue amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"After all the years of demonizing immigrants, after the travel bans, after all the tacit measures that has made *legal* immigration harder and the path toward permanent residency and naturalization longer and more uncertain... this. Utterly shameless."
—Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post

"Naturalization ceremonies are beautiful and Trump using it as a political prop sickens me to my very deep core," tweeted The Nation's Elie Mystal.

Immigration lawyer Mana Yegani said she has many "clients desperately awaiting their naturalization ceremony," but United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) "isn't processing their cases despite the $725 per person the government charges for citizenship."

"It's a shame," Yegani added. "So many people are denied access to become citizens whom ultimately cannot vote this November."

Trump presided over the naturalization ceremony alongside Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who was instrumental in authoring administration policy that separated thousands of immigrant children from their families. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted his plans to nominate Wolf as DHS secretary just two weeks after the Government Accountability Office found that Wolf was illegally appointed to his current position.

"On behalf of everyone here today, I'd like to express my gratitude to you Mr. President for hosting this naturalization ceremony here at the White House," Wolf declared at the start of the event. "To our candidates, it is my honor to administer the Oath of Allegiance and welcome you as our fellow citizens."

"Mr. President, I want to again commend you for your dedication to the rule of law and for restoring integrity to our immigration system," Wolf said later. "Thank you for hosting such a patriotic celebration here at the White House today."

One anonymous USCIS employee told Buzzfeed reporter Hamed Aleaziz that "it sickened me to my core to watch that spectacle given every directive this administration has taken from day one to demonize immigrant communities, including naturalized ones."

As the Washington Post's Philip Bump wrote in a column early Wednesday: "Trump had the audacity to tell the life story of and pose for a photograph with an immigrant from Ghana. During an Oval Office discussion about immigration in early 2018, Trump rejected the idea that people from Haiti, El Salvador, or African countries should receive special protections. 'Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?' he asked."

In addition to voicing disgust at the transparent use of immigrants as political props, observers also denounced the campaign event as clearly illegal.

"This is so obviously, blatantly, insultingly a Hatch Act violation that it's starting to seem like the Trump administration is going out of its way to find new ways to violate the law," tweeted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group.

Kathleen Clark, government ethics expert at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said "we just witnessed President Trump and DHS official Chad Wolf violate a criminal Hatch Act provision that prohibits anyone employed in 'an administrative position' from using his official authority to affect the nomination or election of any presidential candidate."

"Breathtaking in their contempt for the law," Clark added.

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