Trump defends immigration policies

President Trump defended his hard-line approach on immigration and refugees during a Monday press conference with Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, highlighting the two leaders' stark differences.

Asked by a reporter about his portrayal of Syrian refugees as a “Trojan horse” for terrorism, Trump pivoted to talk of illegal immigrants and said he would continue his effort to ramp up deportations of “criminals” who pose a threat to the nation. 

“I said we will get the criminals out — the drug lords, the gang members — we're getting them out,” Trump said, as Trudeau stood behind another lectern to his right. 

Trump justified his actions by citing his pledge to crack down on illegal immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign, which he noted resulted in a “very, very large Electoral College vote” in his favor.  

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“We are going to get the bad ones. The really bad ones, we’re getting them out and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said. “In the end everyone is going to be extremely happy and I’ll tell you.”

Trump's comments came after federal immigration authorities arrested nearly 700 people in 11 states over the past several days, provoking fears in immigrant communities of an effort by the Trump administration to accelerate deportations. 

But it remains unclear if the raids were the start of a new initiative or part of ongoing efforts to arrest people living illegally in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security said the operations were "consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by" immigration enforcement teams "on a daily basis."

DHS said Monday that 75 percent of the people arrested were “criminal aliens,” including some with murder, sexual assault and weapons convictions. 

But the department did not specify how many of the deportees were convicted of those serious crimes. And Trump issued an executive order during his first week in office that expanded the definition of criminal immigrants who will be targeted for deportation to include those who entered the country without authorization, a misdemeanor offense.  

One case that received nationwide attention was Arizona resident Guadalupe García de Rayos, a mother of two U.S.-born children who lived in the country for decades. Authorities allowed her to remain in the U.S. until last week, when she was taken into custody and deported to Mexico. 

Trudeau, speaking in both English and French, pledged to continue welcoming refugees from Syria, noting his country has resettled close to 40,000 people fleeing a brutal civil war there. Trump’s recent executive order would indefinitely bar Syrian refugees from settling in the U.S.  

“We continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration and refugees without compromising security,” Trudeau said.

Some were expecting the Canadian leader to go further and rebuke Trump’s policy, given that Trudeau touted his country’s openness to refugees one day after his U.S. counterpart handed down the sweeping executive action, which would also suspend all refugees for 120 days. 

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” he tweeted at the time.

But Trudeau made it clear he did not want to begin a full-blown feud with his nation’s largest trading partner. 

“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,” he said. 

“My role, our responsibility, is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians' approach and be a positive example in the world.”

The press conference was also notable for the questions that went unasked. 

The president received no questions about embattled National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or how he plans to react to a court order blocking his temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Trump ignored a chorus of reporters who shouted questions about Flynn as he and Trudeau walked off the podium. 

Reporters from two domestic and two foreign outlets were permitted to ask questions at Monday’s news conference, standard practice for when the president appears with a foreign leader. 

The U.S.-based reporters who received questions were from the Daily Caller, a conservative website, and Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which struck a deal with the Trump campaign for access and coverage. 

Sinclair’s Scott Thuman, who asked about the U.S.-Canada relationship, said afterward the White House advised him to attend the press conference but did not promise him a question. He said he did not discuss Flynn with White House aides before deciding on his question. 

Without a comment from the president, reporters and the public were left to speculate about Flynn’s future in the White House. 

Hours after the news conference, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway sought to quiet the rumor mill when she appeared on MSNBC to say Flynn “does enjoy the full confidence of the president.” 

Trump is facing mounting pressure from both inside and outside the West Wing to fire Flynn over reports he discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia’s ambassador before the inauguration. 

Conway’s comments were the first on-the-record endorsement of Flynn from a White House official since the reports began to emerge Friday.

Trump and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceDems face close polls in must-win Virginia Report: Trump administration officials urged furious Tillerson not to quit Authorities recover 47 firearms in connection with Las Vegas shooter MORE have not publicly commented on Flynn’s status, leaving many wondering whether the matter is indeed settled.

CNN reported there are no imminent plans for Flynn to be fired or resign, but an official anonymously said “the knives are out” for the security aide. 

Flynn has reportedly apologized to Pence, who during an appearance on CBS News last month denied the retired Army general had discussed "anything having to do with” the Obama administration’s punishments against Russia for its election-related hacking. 

Flynn was seated in the front row of the East Room during the news conference along with other senior aides and Cabinet officials, perhaps a sign his job remains safe for now.