Migrant And Refugee Advocates Call On Trump To Tone Down Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh killings, many are seeing a connection between President Trump's anti-immigrant speeches and the attack, which targeted a synagogue that helped refugees.
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Migrant And Refugee Advocates Call On Trump To Tone Down Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

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Migrant And Refugee Advocates Call On Trump To Tone Down Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Migrant And Refugee Advocates Call On Trump To Tone Down Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Authorities say the suspect in the Pittsburgh killings was motivated by hatred of Jews. On social media, he also raged against immigrants. Now, as President Trump ratchets up his border crackdown, advocates for migrants and refugees are calling on him to ratchet down his anti-immigrant rhetoric. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hours after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, President Trump denounced the attack at a campaign rally in Illinois.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated.

ROSE: But Mark Hatfield is troubled by what the president has not said about the Pittsburgh shooting.

MARK HATFIELD: This wasn't just an anti-Semitic act, but it was also an act against refugees and against immigrants.

ROSE: Hatfield is the CEO of HIAS, which was originally founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The Jewish group now helps resettle refugees from all over the world in the U.S. Just before the synagogue attack, the alleged shooter Robert Bowers posted on social media. He accused HIAS of bringing violent, quote, "invaders" into the United States. But Hatfield says the president has ignored what Bowers posted online about immigrants.

HATFIELD: The reason he had targeted the Jewish community on this particular day is because he saw Jews as helping refugees come into the country. And President Trump didn't mention that.

ROSE: Hatfield argues there is a connection between the Pittsburgh shooting and the administration's rhetoric about immigrants.

HATFIELD: Hateful words always lead to hateful acts. And that's exactly what happened here. Words matter. And they especially matter when they come from the president of the United States.

ROSE: With just over a week to go before the midterm elections, there's no reason to think that President Trump is planning to change his tone on immigration. By the end of his speech at the weekend rally, President Trump was back to familiar talking points about, quote, "criminal immigrants" and vowing to stop the caravan of migrants that's slowly making its way across Mexico to the southwest border.

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TRUMP: They have to come in legally, like all of the millions of people that are waiting online right now. They can't break into our borders. They're not going to.

ROSE: Today the Department of Defense announced that the president is sending thousands of troops to the southwest border. And the White House is mulling an executive order that would close the border to migrants. The president's supporters dismiss any connection between his rhetoric on immigration and the motivations of the Pittsburgh attacker.

DAN STEIN: Trying to understand this kind of behavior is impossible.

ROSE: Dan Stein is the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors lower levels of immigration.

STEIN: It seems very cynical for people to try to take, you know, the activity of a deranged person and turn it around and try to alter or shape our national political debate on frankly one of the most important issues of our time.

ROSE: But immigrant rights advocates say that debate has been swamped by disinformation and fear mongering. The alleged synagogue shooter, for example, shared conspiracy theories on social media about Jews supporting the migrant caravan. Mark Hatfield at HIAS says this kind of xenophobia is becoming more prevalent.

HATFIELD: There seems to be real fear out there of the other. And rather than addressing this fear and confronting it, these leaders that we have are stoking those fears.

ROSE: The president himself warned, without evidence, that there are, quote, "unknown Middle Easterners," unquote, mixed in with the caravan. Reporters from NPR and other media on the ground say the only migrants they've seen are those fleeing from violence in Central America, many of whom do want to come to the U.S. legally by seeking asylum. Joel Rose, NPR News.

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