The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans, reality generally disagree with Trump’s strategy on border wall funding

No, construction hasn't begun on President Trump's wall and there is not funding to begin construction. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

With a deadline for funding the government looming and Democratic leaders headed to the White House to work out a budget agreement, President Trump primed the pump with a little early-morning tweeting Tuesday.

The dispatch of the military to the border and his strong hand on immigration have stemmed the threat from the migrant caravan he had hyped before the election, Trump claimed, asserting, “Our Southern Border is now Secure and will remain that way.” Democrats who once supported a wall no longer do, he said, because they “no longer want Border Security.”

Let’s assess those claims.

When Trump first took office, the number of people apprehended at the border with Mexico plummeted. In an interview with the Associated Press in April last year, Trump highlighted that drop.

Americans “want to see the wall, they want to see security,” he said. “Now, it just came out that [apprehensions are] 73 percent down. That’s a tremendous achievement. Look at this, in 100 days, that’s down to the lowest in 17 years and it’s going lower. Now, people aren’t coming because they know they’re not going to get through, and there isn’t crime.”

That drop was temporary. Over the next year and a half, apprehensions at the southern border crept back up until they were at the same point they had been before the 2016 election. The last two months nearly matched the number of apprehensions in October and November 2016.

Trump wants to have and eat his cake on this. Either the number of apprehensions dropping is a mark of strong border security or the number spiking is, but not both. Either the recent spike is a sign things are far worse than they were in April 2017 or it’s a sign that his celebration of those April numbers was false.

If it’s the latter, if Trump’s Tuesday tweet is correct and the high number of apprehensions is good news about the security of the border, it’s worth reinforcing the point above: Border security is now as robust as it was under President Barack Obama.

As for Trump’s broader rhetoric on paying for the wall, he’s right that Democrats generally oppose his proposals. But, then, so do most independents. New polling data from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist shows that, on net, Democrats and independents are more likely to disapprove than approve of Trump’s handling of immigration broadly and the migrant caravan in particular.

As for the wall, most Americans think that its construction isn’t a priority at all. Yes, most Republicans consider it an immediate priority for the government, but most independents join most Democrats in saying that there’s no urgent need for it.

In fact, even a quarter of Republicans think that funding the wall shouldn’t be an obstacle to a budget deal on Trump’s part. A majority of Americans think the president needs to compromise on his insistence over the wall in order to get a funding deal and avoid a government shutdown.

In other words, most Americans agree with the Democratic position.

This poll didn’t ask a related question: How many Americans think that the cost of the wall will ultimately be borne by Mexico? Perhaps because the responses to that question are fairly obvious without asking.