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A Look At The History Of The America Is 'Full' Phrase Trump Has Used A Lot Recently


Now we're going to dig into the history of a phrase that President Trump has been using a lot lately. During a visit to a U.S. Border Patrol station in California on Friday, he said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Can't take you anymore - we can't take you. Our country is full. Our area's full. The sector is full - can't take you anymore. I'm sorry.

SHAPIRO: He doubled down on those remarks Saturday before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas.


TRUMP: Can't come in - our country is full. What can you do? We can't handle any more. Our country is full - can't come in. I'm sorry. It's very simple.


SHAPIRO: And then yesterday he tweeted, our country is - all caps - FULL. Trump's comments were directed at Central American migrants. In other countries, far-right leaders are using the same phrase to reject people from Syria, North Africa and other parts of the world. Mark Hetfield is president and CEO of HIAS, the Jewish nonprofit organization that helps resettle refugees here in the U.S. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARK HETFIELD: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: That line, our country is full, has a particular resonance for Jews. What echoes do you hear in that phrase?

HETFIELD: Well, we hear echoes dating back to 1921 when the door was slammed shut on people who were fleeing persecution. And we hear echoes from the saint - voyage of the St. Louis, which coincidentally occurred 80 years ago next month when that ship was turned away.

SHAPIRO: For people who aren't familiar with the St. Louis, we're talking about 1939. This was a ship carrying Jewish refugees that was turned back from the United States.

HETFIELD: Yeah, absolutely - to Germany, originally. And then they ended up distributing many of them in other - many of the 937 passengers who were sent back - to other European countries. And over 250 of those perished.

SHAPIRO: We heard participants in the Republican Jewish Coalition cheering President Trump's remarks over the weekend. And President Trump has stressed his support for Israel. It doesn't seem that he was trying to echo rhetoric of the Holocaust, does it?

HETFIELD: Well, I don't want to make comparisons with the rhetoric of the Holocaust. But what I will say is that the entire system of asylum protection and refugee protection in this country and in the world was built on the ashes of the Holocaust to make sure that never again would people be trapped inside of a genocide or trapped inside of a country where they are facing persecution.

And so to hear him make those comments on Shabbat to the Republican Jewish Coalition that asylum is a scam and that our country is being invaded - the same word that the murderer used who went into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh about people who are coming to this country - I mean, that was deeply offensive to us at HIAS.

SHAPIRO: Your organization's mission is resettling refugees in the United States. So you're not a disinterested observer. Border crossings have nearly doubled over a year ago. Border Patrol caught almost a hundred thousand people entering the U.S. from Mexico last month, the highest number in more than a decade. So setting aside the echoes of the phrase our country is full, do you think there is any point where the number of people trying to come into the U.S. just becomes too great?

HETFIELD: Well, we have not come close to reaching that point. Instead, what's been happening is the machinery that's been developed to decide whether or not these people need protection has been totally broken. This administration - one of the first things that they did was they closed down the only legal route that Central American minors had to get to the United States. So now they're forced to take this route because they are running for their lives. The president wanted to build a wall for $5 billion. The budget of the immigration court system is less than a tenth of that per year.


HETFIELD: But he's not investing in that.

SHAPIRO: Mark Hetfield is president of HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that resettles refugees in the United States. Thanks so much.

HETFIELD: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.