“Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
—President Trump, in a tweet, Dec. 27, 2018
Over the holidays during the government shutdown, President Trump repeatedly posted on Twitter a variety of rationales for why a wall along the southern border is necessary. He also spoke to reporters before and after his brief post-Christmas visit to Iraq. We’ve covered many of these issues in previous fact checks, but here’s a quick overview for readers who might have missed — or tried to ignore — the tweets between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“The Democrats don’t want it, because they don’t want open borders, and yet every one of those Democrats approved the wall, or a fence, or very, very substantial barriers. Every single one. I don’t think there’s one — but let’s assume, let’s use the word, almost everyone approved a wall, or a fence, or exactly what we’re talking about, as little as three years ago.”
—remarks after Christmas video conference with troops, Dec. 25
Sen. Charles E. Schumer and many Democrats (though not Rep. Nancy Pelosi) voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed by President George W. Bush and authorized building a fence along nearly 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. But the fence they voted for is not as substantial as the wall Trump is proposing. Trump has called the 2006 fence “such a nothing wall.”
To Trump, opposing the wall is tantamount to not wanting any border security at all. But Democrats have offered support for $1.3 billion in security enhancements. That doesn’t include funding for Trump’s wall, but it includes 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the Southeast Texas border with Mexico, similar to what already exists. (Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly said Pelosi voted for the law. It passed 283-138 in the House, with 64 Democrat votes, and 80-19 in the Senate, with 26 Democrat votes.)
“We’re going to have safety. We need safety for our country, even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border. We have the terrorists also coming in, fellas, through the southern border.”
—remarks in Iraq, Dec. 26
Trump is creating an association between the southern border and terrorists when there is none. As we’ve previously reported, almost all terrorism suspects are apprehended at airports. Plus, a recent report from the State Department showed there was little credible information suggesting terrorists were trying to enter the United States through the southern border.
“This isn’t about the Wall, everybody knows that a Wall will work perfectly (In Israel the Wall works 99.9%). This is only about the Dems not letting Donald Trump & the Republicans have a win. They may have the 10 Senate votes, but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
Only one-tenth (33 miles) of the Israeli barrier with Palestinian territories is an eight-meter (26-foot) concrete wall. The other 90 percent is a two-meter (6.5-foot) electronic fence. As for 99.9 percent, those numbers are a fantasy. The New York Times in 2016 reported on a vast smuggling industry that easily evades the Israeli security fence and wall that divides Israeli and Palestinian areas.
“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border. Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
Most drugs come into the United States across the southern border with Mexico. But a wall would not limit this illegal trade, as much of it travels through legal borders or under tunnels unaffected by any possible physical barrier. Even if the wall could curb illicit drug trafficking, it would have a minimal impact on the death toll from drug abuse. Prescription drug overdoses claim more lives than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined. (This is a Bottomless Pinocchio claim.)
“Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
There is no evidence that most of the government workers affected by the government shutdown are Democrats. Trump at one point also claimed, without evidence, that most of the workers affected by the shutdown supported his stance.
“The reason the DACA for Wall deal didn’t get done was that a ridiculous court decision from the 9th Circuit allowed DACA to remain, thereby setting up a Supreme Court case. After ruling, Dems dropped deal - and that’s where we are today, Democrat obstruction of the needed Wall.”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was in November 2018. Pelosi and Schumer announced they had a deal with Trump on extending DACA in September 2017 that did not include wall funding, but then Trump later backed out of it after pressure from his right flank and he began to push for broad changes to the immigration system in exchange for allowing DACA-eligible people to remain. No judge had ruled to uphold DACA in the interim.
A bipartisan coalition in the Senate last year rejected, by a vote of 60 to 39, a measure backed by Trump that would have all but ended the family-based migration system that has been in place for decades. A separate bipartisan measure that would have legalized the DACA “dreamers” and allocated $25 billion for a wall on the border with Mexico fell six votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to a final vote. But it earned far more votes than Trump’s preferred approach and might have succeeded if it had White House backing.
“Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing nothing for the United States but taking our money. Word is that a new Caravan is forming in Honduras and they are doing nothing about it. We will be cutting off all aid to these 3 countries - taking advantage of U.S. for years!”
—Tweet, Dec. 28
The United States has given substantial foreign aid to Central America over the past several years, but it has declined dramatically since Trump took office. All three countries were allocated only $88 million in aid in 2018, down from a combined total of $499 million in 2016. The aid is intended to improve the economy and government functions in these countries, in the hopes that lives will improve for citizens and fewer will feel the need to flee. In fact, Trump’s tweet appears to contradict an announcement by the State Department on Dec. 18 that, along with Mexico, the United States will boost aid to these countries to promote “a safer and more prosperous Central America.”
“We build a Wall or close the Southern Border. Bring our car industry back into the United States where it belongs. Go back to pre-NAFTA, before so many of our companies and jobs were so foolishly sent to Mexico.”
—Tweet, Dec. 28
As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States, Canada and Mexico constitute an economically integrated market, especially for the auto industry. Auto parts and vehicles produced in each country freely flow over the borders, without tariffs or other restrictions, with thousands of part suppliers serving the automakers that build the vehicles. Factories built in Mexico may actually free up production in the United States, so it’s not a zero-sum game. Trump offers a fantasy of turning back the clock, but it’s not so simple, as evidenced by the fact that the revised NAFTA agreement he signed makes changes only on the margins.
“The United States looses soooo much money on Trade with Mexico under NAFTA, over 75 Billion Dollars a year (not including Drug Money which would be many times that amount), that I would consider closing the Southern Border a 'profit making operation.’ ”
—Tweet, Dec. 28
Countries do not “lose” or make money on trade deficits. Trump is citing figures for trades in goods but not including services. The United States in 2017 had a trade deficit of $64 billion with Mexico when services are included. What’s more important is the overall level of trade. U.S. goods and services trade with Mexico totaled an estimated $615.9 billion in 2017. Exports were $276.2 billion; imports were $339.8 billion. According to the Commerce Department, U.S. exports of goods and services to Mexico supported an estimated 1.2 million jobs in 2015.
“For those that naively ask why didn’t the Republicans get approval to build the Wall over the last year, it is because IN THE SENATE WE NEED 10 DEMOCRAT VOTES, and they will gives us “NONE” for Border Security! Now we have to do it the hard way, with a Shutdown. Too bad!”
—Tweet, Dec. 29
Trump had a chance to strike a deal. Democrats came to Trump with a bipartisan plan that had been crafted in the Senate to spend $25 billion over 10 years on a border wall and provide protections for 1.8 million dreamers who had arrived illegally as children. But he rejected it. As we noted, the bipartisan proposal had the most support in the Senate, including from eight Republicans, but was blocked from a final vote because of GOP opposition. Trump’s proposal, which came with limits on legal immigration, received the least support and was roundly rejected by a combination of Republicans and Democrats. The funding bill currently offered by Democrats would provide $1.3 billion for border security but not the president’s wall.
“The two children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol. The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn’t given her water in days. Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end. They are working so hard & getting so little credit!”
—Tweet, Dec. 29
The causes of the deaths remain under investigation. Jakelin Caal, the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody, was healthy before she arrived, a representative for the family said. The family disputed reports that she went several days without food and water before crossing the border. “Jakelin’s father took care of Jakelin — made sure she was fed and had sufficient water,” said a statement from his attorneys. “She had not suffered from a lack of water or food prior to approaching the border.” The Department of Homeland Security said an “initial screening revealed no evidence of health issues. During the screening, the father denied that either he or his daughter were ill.” Jakelin’s father has charged that she was given no water while they were detained.
As for the death of the second child, 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said an autopsy showed Felipe tested positive for influenza B. The cause of death is still being determined through additional laboratory testing, the office said. Felipe’s mother, Catarina Alonzo, told the Associated Press that her son reported he was doing well every time that he and his father called home during their trek.
“President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!”
—Tweet, Dec. 30
In trying to make the case for a high concrete border wall, Trump exaggerates about the Obama house in Washington. It is an 8,200-square-foot Tudor-style home in the Kalorama residential area, but it is not a “compound.” The Obamas added security fencing to an enlarged retaining wall in front for the needs of the Secret Service, but there is not a 10-foot wall around the house; the front steps are open to the sidewalk. Chain-link fencing, but no wall, was added to the back. While Trump says the border wall would be a “slightly larger version” of the alleged Obama wall, he has previously described his proposed wall as 1,000 miles long, made of precast concrete slabs, rising 35 to 40 feet.
"An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!”
—Tweet, Dec. 31
Trump suggests the media got something wrong, but he actually is disputing a quote made by his outgoing chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to the Los Angeles Times: “To be honest, it’s not a wall. … The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”
More often than not, Trump has said he was building a wall, a “great wall.” As Trump put it during the campaign: “No windows, no nothing, precast concrete going very high. Let’s see about concrete going very high. Let’s see about concrete going very high.”
“MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL through the many billions of dollars a year that the U.S.A. is saving through the new Trade Deal, the USMCA, that will replace the horrendous NAFTA Trade Deal, which has so badly hurt our Country. Mexico & Canada will also thrive - good for all!”
—Tweet, Dec. 31
Trump is stuck on an unworkable campaign pledge that Mexico would be forced to pay for the wall, but administration officials have refused to explain Trump’s logic for how the revised North American Free Trade Agreement would pay for the wall. The updating of the trade pact negotiated by the Trump administration makes some changes at the margins. The agreement has yet to be ratified by three countries and likely would not take effect until 2020 at the earliest. But if that results in a smaller trade deficit because Mexico is buying more goods from the United States, it does not necessarily translate into greater revenue for the U.S. government. (As we noted, Trump often equates trade deficits to “losses,” but that’s a misunderstanding of basic economics.) Moreover, Congress would still have to appropriate funds, and it has refused to do.
Sometimes, the president has asserted that the wall would pay for itself because of reduced illegal immigration. The president often relies on dubious figures on the cost of illegal immigration. But in any case, a border wall on the southern border would not stop people from overstaying their visas.
Illegal border crossings represent a relatively small share of the number of people who enter the country, legally or otherwise, in any given year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Studies estimate that nearly half of the immigrants residing in the United States illegally entered the country legally with a visa — a percentage that keeps growing. “Two-thirds of those who arrived in 2014 did not illegally cross a border, but were admitted (after screening) on non-immigrant (temporary) visas, and then overstayed their period of admission or otherwise violated the terms of their visas,” said a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies. “Moreover, this trend in increasing percentages of visa overstays will likely continue into the foreseeable future.”
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