Fact-Checking Trump's Border Speech Reveals He's Stretching His Case Pretty Far
On Tuesday evening, the president of the United States addressed the country amidst an ongoing government shutdown caused by a stalemate over southern border wall funding. During his speech in the Oval Office, Trump shared lots of information about the state of border security — some of which was misleading. Indeed, fact-checking Trump's border speech reveals that he's stretching his case for building a border wall pretty far in some cases.
During his address, Trump repeatedly lamented what he believes are the perils associated with illegal immigration. He also told the American public that there is "a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border."
The president cited the American economy, the drug trade, and criminal activity as some of the many reasons why he believes it is imperative to construct a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. He also blamed Democrats for perpetuating the government shutdown and accused them of rescinding support for border security that he believes they have previously offered under past administrations.
In taking a closer look at Trump's claims, many of them are misleading or, at the very least, require more context. The list below lends insight into some of the key assertions Trump made during his address — and examines exactly how they may or may not further his argument for the wall.
Democratic Support For A "Physical Barrier"
Trump suggested that Senator Chuck Schumer "has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected.”
This is somewhat accurate, although the type of border barrier supported by Schumer and other Democrats was much different than the wall that Trump is proposing. As the Washington Post reported, Schumer and other Democrats did vote to support the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The bill allowed for the construction of a 700-mile fence along certain areas of the U.S.-Mexico border. As PolitiFact reported, the fence is not a continuous one. It also has miles of gaps between fence segments and even openings in areas of the fence itself, the outlet indicated.
PolitiFact also noted that Trump himself characterized the fence as an essentially non-existent wall, saying during the 2016 presidential campaign, "... it was such a little wall, it was such a nothing wall."
Paying For The Wall
During his speech, Trump argued that "The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico."
This claim is not totally accurate. As the Washington Post reported, the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) to which Trump is referring has not even been ratified yet. Moreover, as CNN pointed out, even if USMCA does raise some tax revenue, it wouldn't be specifically allocated toward building a wall. Additionally, as the New York Times noted, any benefits from USMCA would likely be seen in higher wages for American employees or lower tariffs for American companies.
Drugs Coming Across The Border
Trump suggested that a lack of border security is responsible for the alarming number of heroin-related deaths in the United States. “Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of which floods across from our southern border," the president said.
While it is accurate that around 90 percent of the heroin in the United States comes from Mexico, only a small amount of it comes into the country through illegal border crossings, a 2018 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report found. The report indicated that the vast majority of heroin that enters the United States arrives through legal entry ports, meaning that a wall meant to curb illegal immigration would do little to stop heroin trafficking.
Trump asserted that Democrats want the wall to be made of steel rather than concrete. "At the request of the Democrats, it will be a steel barrier, rather than a concrete wall," the president noted.
However, as NBC reported, Democrats have flat out rejected the idea of any type of wall, steel or otherwise, and Trump's own Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney indicated that Trump was the one who suggested a steel barrier as a compromise. Moreover, according to Eliza Collins of USA Today on Twitter, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson Drew Hammill said Trump's claim that Democrats prefer a steel barrier is “false.”
Americans Are Hurt By Illegal Immigration
In his address, Trump revealed why he believes illegal immigration is negatively affecting American citizens. "... All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic Americans."
There is certainly not consensus on the notion that immigration (legal and illegal) is bad for the American economy, as CNN reported. This topic is often heavily debated among economists and, indeed, many believe that immigration brings economic benefits for both immigrants and citizens.
For example, Kevin Shih, an assistant professor of economics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told The Conversation U.S. about some of these benefits. “Both individual workers and employers constantly readjust to changing conditions.," Shih said. "In fact, many economists have found evidence that natives quickly adjust to the labor market forces of immigration and in a way that often yields positive benefits.”
Moreover, NPR also reported that there is not consensus that illegal immigration causes a strain on public resources. The outlet noted that, while illegal immigration may increase the cost of government services in some locations, immigrants also compensate for these costs by paying taxes.
Number Of Illegal Border Crossings
"Every day customs and border patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country," Trump claimed on Tuesday evening.
As the New York Times noted, this remark is somewhat misleading. Customs and Border Protection reports from November 2018 reveal that around 1,700 people tried to cross the border illegally each day. The paper stated that this number would reach over 2,000 if you include individuals who are deemed inadmissible (those who try to enter the country legally but are turned away), but inadmissible crossings are not the same as illegal ones.
Trump frequently cited crime rates as reason why the border wall should be constructed. As Trump put it:
In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records including those charged [with] or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country.
NPR indicated that this statistic about the number of arrests is accurate. However, notably, the outlet stated that many of these individuals' criminal records are likely from immigration-related crimes, not violent ones. Moreover, it's important to note that, when compared with the U.S. population as a whole, immigrants tend to be less likely to commit crimes, the Washington Post reported.
Overall, it's apparent that some of Trump's claims made during Tuesday's remarks didn't necessarily make a strong case for building a wall along the southern border. As the shutdown lingers, it remains to be seen what, if any, impact his Oval Office address had on members of Congress and the American public more broadly.