Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has often fear-mongered refugees, saying that the federal government fails to vet these potential “Trojan horse” terrorists enough to safely admit them into the country. He has claimed that some Latino immigrants could be criminals or drug dealers. He has also released a campaign video of a “swarm” of immigrants crossing a border.
But on Tuesday, Trump appeared to make an exception to his generally stark view of foreigners. In two separate campaign stops in Florida, Trump paid tribute to late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died Sunday in a boating accident.
While probably genuine, Trump’s praise was surprising given Fernandez was a Cuban refugee. At the age of 15, Fernandez left Cuba, only to be pushed back and jailed three times for attempting to swim towards the United States. On the fourth time that he took a boat with his mom, he almost lost her as she was swept into the water. He saved her. They reached the United States. And under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that was part of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Fernandez was able to become a legal resident a year later. Last year, Fernandez became an American citizen.
“I think Jose Fernandez was the epitome of this Hispanic movement, the Cuban movement,” Trump said at the beginning of a town-hall style event at the Miami Dade College Memorial Center, according to a local NBC Miami affiliate. “Somebody who leaves their country for a new life who makes it in America.”
“All over the world they’re talking about this because it was such an incredibly horrible story to be cut down in your prime like that, but what a talent, what a great person,” Trump added.
Later at a rally in Melbourne, Florida, Trump again praised Fernandez as a “great person” whose tragic death is a “huge loss for the state.”
“We lost one great person in a heartbreaking accident on Sunday, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez,” Trump said later at a rally in Melbourne, Florida. “And he was some pitcher. He died at the age of 24. I just spoke to Jeff [Loria], the owner of the team, who is heartbroken. It’s a huge loss for the state, for the entire sport of baseball, and for all of the Americans who are so inspired watching him play at 24. Just about as good of a pitcher as there ever was at that age.”
Trump’s description of Fernandez as the “epitome of this Hispanic movement, the Cuban movement” may be warranted. After all, Fernandez won rookie of the year and had a 2.19 ERA with 187 strikeouts during his first season in the majors in 2013. This season, he was even better, posting 253 strikeouts and leading the MLB with 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
But to listen to Trump praise one refugee while condemning the rest of the immigrant population is harder to appreciate. It’s especially hard to find Trump’s characterization of Fernandez genuine at a time when he is actively supporting an immigration policy plan to deport some immigrants and ban refugees, who, just like Fernandez, want to pursue a new life in America away from harm and death.
Other refugees and immigrants may not play professional baseball. They may be nameless. But many of them are nevertheless are profiles of resilience and hard work in a similar way as Fernandez. They also work hard. A recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine study found that immigrants in the U.S., including legal and undocumented workers, contributed $2 trillion to U.S. GDP in 2016.
Trump’s promise to deport the undocumented population would include the 660,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state of Florida. That would also be a “huge loss” — according to a 2012 Center for American Progress report, the state’s undocumented worker population, which totaled around 543,000, contributed $31.2 billion in tax revenue and accounted for a gross domestic product of $5.67 billion. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.)
Trump hasn’t been the only politician to heap praise on Fernandez as an exceptional immigrant who left behind their country to make it in America. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has completely backed away from a bipartisan immigration bill he once supported that would grant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to deliver a similarly moving tribute. And another Republican state representative, who once claimed that undocumented immigrants were “sucking us dry,” also praised Fernandez.