In his first formal address to the nation from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump painted a picture of a national threat and humanitarian crisis occurring along the US-Mexico border, saying his signature border wall would provide a solution.
Here’s a partial rundown of the President’s statements and the context:
Trump: “The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”
The President has made this false claim before.
Trump long ago abandoned his 2016 campaign promise that Mexico would pay to build a wall. Instead, he now makes the case that Mexico will “indirectly” pay for the barrier, thanks to the potential increase in tax revenue generated by his replacement for the North America Free Trade Agreement.
But the new deal hasn’t yet been ratified by Congress, where Democrats have expressed opposition. And even if the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement ends up raising tax revenue, there’s nothing earmarking that money for a wall. Income and corporate taxes are general revenue that would have to be appropriated by Congress.
Another way trade could bring money into the Treasury is through tariffs — which are paid by American importers when they buy foreign goods. But like the original NAFTA, the new deal aims to keep trade between the three countries largely tariff-free.
Trump: “Every day, Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.”
This is overstated. Available Customs and Border Protection data shows a total of 396,579 people were apprehended by the US Border Patrol for fiscal year 2018 at the southwest border, which would mean an average of 1,087 each day — hardly the “thousands” that Trump purports. The numbers differ each month. The highest number of apprehensions was in September, with a daily average of nearly 1,400.
Apprehensions are still well below historic highs. In the early 2000s, for example, annual apprehensions routinely topped 1 million. After hitting an historic low in 2017 of around 300,000, apprehensions increased in fiscal year 2018 to nearly 400,000.
The President also expressed concern about what he called “a growing humanitarian crisis.” There’s been an uptick in unaccompanied minors and families approaching the US-Mexico border, many of whom are seeking asylum. Deteriorating conditions in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) are among the reasons that some have decided to make the journey.
In 2016, nearly half of the people apprehended at the US-Mexico border came from these three countries, compared with roughly 10% in 2010, according to Homeland Security Department data.
Trump: “All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.”
It’s very difficult to know exactly how much or little undocumented immigrants cost the United States. Many experts contest the notion that undocumented immigrants are a strain on the economy. A 2017 analysis noted that undocumented immigrants “make considerable tax contributions,” for example.
Similarly, a 2018 study by the libertarian Cato Institute, which reviewed criminal conviction data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, found that immigrants — legal or illegal — are less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of crimes. Throughout the country, there is also generally a decrease in the number of violent crimes, according to the FBI.
Trump: “At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.”
Democrats have long strenuously opposed Trump’s campaign promise that he would build a concrete wall on the US-Mexico border. But they did not propose a steel barrier as an alternative. Rather, Democrats have continued to oppose the construction of any new steel or concrete barrier on the southern border. They have only kept the door open to funding a border barrier as part of a broader immigration deal.
Trump: “Sen. Chuck Schumer has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past.”
This is correct but context is key. Schumer previously supported legislation to build physical barriers on the US-Mexico border. Most notably, Schumer and other Democrats supported the 2006 Secure Fence Act that authorized the construction of several hundred miles of fencing along the border, but not a wall. However as long as the government remains shut down, Senate Minority Leader Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have refused to offer any funding for a border barrier.
Democratic leaders have offered funding for roughly $1.3 billion for border security in the current shutdown fight, but not the $5 billion the President has sought for a wall.
Last week, House Democrats voted to approve a stop-gap funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would not allocate new wall funding, but would maintain the current $1.3 billion in border security money. Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a DHS funding bill for fiscal year 2019 on a bipartisan basis that would allocate $1.6 billion for roughly 65 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley, but the full Senate has not yet approved that measure.
Trump: “More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.”
Some 58,220 Americans died as a result of the Vietnam War. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of total drug overdose deaths was 70,327.
However, the President’s assertion is misleading, conflating the drugs coming across the US-Mexico border with total drug deaths in the US. In addition, it’s not currently known whether overdose deaths will increase or decrease when the CDC releases 2018 data later this year.
Trump’s figures also do not distinguish between deaths caused by drugs smuggled into the country versus those prescribed by US doctors.
The majority of hard narcotics seized by Customs and Border Protection come through ports of entry either in packages, cargo or with people who attempt to enter the US legally. The only drug that is smuggled in higher numbers between legal entry points is marijuana, according to information from CBP and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
China has been one of the leading sources of illegal synthetic opioids. However, China’s role with the importation of fentanyl may soon shift, since President Xi Jinping agreed to make fentanyl a controlled substance late last year.
Trump: “1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”
Trump acknowledged the violence migrants face in transit to the US, saying: “1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims by far of our broken system. This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border.”
Indeed, the trek to the US-Mexico border has been reported to be violent. According to data from Doctors Without Borders, 68.3% of migrants and refugees “entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States,” and nearly one-third of women said they’d been sexually abused. But this very violence is also why women have chosen to travel in caravans.
Trump: “Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of which floods across from our southern border.”
While Trump’s statistics on heroin deaths are true, it’s unclear what a border wall would do to reduce the amount of heroin coming across the border.
The CDC reported that in 2017 more than 15,482 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin in the US. That averages out to about 297 individuals each week. In addition, DEA’s Heroin Signature Program, which analyzes heroin samples to determine where they were manufactured, determined that heroin from Mexico made up 86% of the samples analyzed in 2016.
However, the majority of heroin that comes across the southern border is smuggled in privately-owned vehicles and tractor-trailers at legal ports of entry, where the drug is co-mingled with legal goods, according to the DEA’s 2018 annual drug threat assessment.
Trump: “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 some evidence that a small slice of the native-born workforce may see wage decreases because of undocumented immigrants competing for similar jobs, dragging wages down. Research shows that the negative effects are concentrated among workers without college degrees, who are disproportionately African-American, but also includes earlier generations of immigrants.
But in general, economists have determined that immigrants — undocumented or not — tend to help American workers by serving in low-skilled jobs that create more opportunities for the native born to move into managerial and knowledge-based roles. For example, a 2009 study by University of California-Davis economist Giovanni Peri found that a 1% increase in a state’s employment due to immigration produced on average 0.5% higher wages for each worker in that state.
Trump: “In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 violent killings.”
Trump is using these statistics to paint the picture of dangerous criminals coming across the border. On balance the stats he cites are largely accurate, yet the fact is more than half of those crimes are non-violent in nature.
Over the past two years, roughly two-thirds of the undocumented immigrants arrested by ICE had prior criminal convictions — most of those either immigration violations or nonviolent crimes. In all, of the 302,051 arrests made by ICE enforcement and removal officers, 210,876 had prior criminal convictions. If you include those with pending criminal charges, you get just more than 266,000.
His numbers for assaults and homicides reflect what ICE reported: 99,207 people charged or convicted of assaults and 3,914 charged or convicted of homicides. However, the number of sex-related crimes ICE reported appears a bit lower, at more than 27,000 sex-related crimes.
Criminal traffic offenses accounted for the largest single category of criminal offenses, with just over 161,000 charges or convictions, according to ICE.
The President is including people who have been charged but not convicted of crimes. So for assaults, for example, if you only look at convictions, the number is much lower — 61,906 convictions for assault over the past two years.