Fact checking Trump's border wall speech ahead of time
Here's what Trump will likely claim about the border in his big primetime address. And here's the truth.
What can we expect tonight when President Trump addresses the nation about the need for a wall on the southern border? Lies. Lots and lots of lies.
The president is a stranger to the truth on a wildly diverse array of topics, but nothing brings out his inner demagogue like the issue of illegal immigration. It's an issue that plays well with his base, and as the ongoing government shutdown proves, Trump often seems far more interested in pleasing his base — in whipping up its fears, but also in obeying the hysteria he has created — than in serving the broader citizenry of the country he leads.
In recent days during the shutdown, Trump and his administration have renewed their argument for the wall, providing lists of facts and figures about America's immigration situation that have mostly turned out to be not true. The president seems likely to repeat some of those falsehoods tonight — one reasons the broadcast networks initially hesitated to confirm they'll carry his speech.
"In my experience, immediately fact-checking Trump's immigration lies is harder than immediately fact-checking most other Trump lies — they're often written into his speeches by people more sophisticated at deception than he is," Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star's Washington correspondent, tweeted Monday.
So it's best to be prepared ahead of time with a reality check. Here are some of the fake news and real facts behind President Trump's border wall push:
Fake news: 4,000 known or suspected terrorists tried crossing the border in 2018.
Real fact: Only six immigrants found at the border were in the government's Terrorist Screening Database.
Fox News' Chris Wallace caught Sarah Huckabee Sanders in this lie on Sunday, pointing out that almost no terror suspects are caught coming across the border with Mexico: "Do you know where those 4,000 people come — where they are captured?" Wallace asked. "Airports." Unless Trump's wall is going to be built around LaGuardia, it's not going to do much to keep terror suspects out of the country.
NBC News on Monday provided additional clarification: "Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons." In fact, more people in the terror database — 91 — tried during the same time to enter the U.S. through the northern border.
Fake news: 17,000 known criminals tried crossing the border last year.
Real fact: Just 800 immigrants arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol have records of violence or convictions for sexual or firearms offenses.
PRI's The World debunked this one. A couple of key points about this stat: Sixty-three percent of the 17,000 criminals who tried entering the U.S. actually did so at legal entry points like airports. Only 6,259 "criminal aliens" were apprehended actually trying to cross the border. On the whole, they were a tame lot: "A full 47 percent of the 6,259 individuals were convicted for illegally entering or re-entering the United States," PRI reported. "14 percent have DUIs. One in 10 has a drug offense."
Bottom line: Immigrants aren't as big a threat as the Trump administration depicts.
Fake news: America faces a crisis in the number of border crossings.
Real fact: Border crossings have been declining for years.
"In 2000 alone, federal agents apprehended between 71,000 and 220,000 migrants each month," The New York Times reported in June. "By comparison, monthly border crossings so far this year have ranged from 20,000 to 40,000 people." (Check out this graphic if you want further confirmation.) And AP reported this week there were 310,000 "border apprehensions" in the 2017 budget year — down from 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000.
Real news: Okay, but there's a genuine humanitarian crisis at the border — record numbers of migrant families are entering the U.S., The Washington Post reports, "overwhelming border agents and leaving holding cells dangerously overcrowded with children, many of whom are falling sick."
Real fact: The wall won't fix that problem.
As with the terrorists and criminals who enter through airports, migrant families aren't furtively crossing the border. The Washington Post reports: "Current White House aides acknowledge privately that a wall will not adequately address the record surge of immigrant families at the border — most of whom surrender to authorities in hopes of winning asylum protections. "
This, frankly, is an area where both sides have failed: Trump's shutdown of government has exacerbated the problem — immigration judges have been furloughed, making it impossible to get cases moving through the system. But Democrats haven't offered any real solutions here, either.
Fake news: Trump is willing to build a steel wall instead of a concrete wall, as a concession to Democrats.
Real fact: Almost nobody cares how the wall is made.
Democrats "don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel," Trump said Sunday. "Steel is fine. Steel is actually more expensive than concrete, but it will look beautiful and it's actually strong. It's actually stronger." But Democrats' main objection is not to the materials in the wall, but the wall itself. It's a minor issue, but it shows there's little about immigration that Trump won't distort.
Fake news: Previous presidents told Trump they wished they'd built a wall.
Real fact: Nope.
Trump has spent years preparing for this precise moment, drowning the country in a flood of falsehoods, distortions, and general flim-flammery. If his cherished wall were truly worthy of public support, the case for it could be built on a foundation of truth. The problem? Truth isn't this president's style. It's time for reality to score a win.