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Trump does not accurately describe migrant children illegally brought into the United States

“Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.” — President Trump

No government statistic tracks children smuggled in by bad actors, “coyotes” or drug gangs. What Trump is referring to is CBP’s number for family unit apprehensions and unaccompanied minors. The family unit by definition must include at least one parent or legal guardian and one minor. (There’s a separate figure for unaccompanied alien children.)

DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said the December total for apprehensions of unaccompanied children and those with family members was 19,313. But it’s wrong to describe it as a statistic that represents children being smuggled into the country.

Trump describes this as children being smuggled in by coyotes or gangs, but border officials screen for false claims of parentage. To imply as Trump does that a child’s mother, father or legal guardian is or hired a smuggler, coyote or gang member in all of these cases is wrong.

The Post’s Joshua Partlow and Nick Miroff reported that, between April 19, when the trend was first suspected, and Sept. 30, the end of the 2018 fiscal year, CBP agents separated 170 families after determining that the child and adult traveling together were not related. That equals about 0.25 percent of all family units apprehended.

(Correction: A previous version of this story said Trump understated the number of migrant children apprehended last month at the southern border, based on November data. The December data, which DHS released after Trump’s speech, show the number is around 20,000, as Trump said. The story incorrectly described the way U.S. Customs and Border Protection counts children and family members who are caught attempting to cross the border, or “family unit apprehensions.” The term refers to a monthly tally published by the agency of the total number of children, parents or legal guardians who are caught together at the border, not the number of families.)

Live fact-checking and analysis of President Trump’s immigration speech

President Trump is set to make a case to a national television audience Tuesday night for long-sought border wall funding; the impasse over the wall has led to a partial government shutdown. His remarks are scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern and are expected to last about eight minutes and be carried live by all major television networks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to deliver a brief joint response afterward.