Back to
Read the fact check from Trump’s Oval Office address on immigration

On Jan. 8, President Trump addressed a national television audience, warning of a “security crisis at the southern border.” Here are some of the key claims from that night. 

“Tonight I am speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.”

By any available measure, there is no new security crisis at the border.

Apprehensions of people trying to cross the southern border peaked most recently at 1.6 million in 2000 and have been in decline since, falling to just under 400,000 in fiscal 2018. The decline is partly because of technology upgrades; tougher penalties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; a decline in migration rates from Mexico; and a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol officers. The fiscal 2018 number was up from just over 300,000 apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border for fiscal 2017, the lowest level in more than 45 years.

There are far more cases of travelers overstaying their visas than southern border apprehensions. In fiscal 2017, the Department of Homeland Security reported 606,926 suspected in-country overstays, or twice the number of southern border apprehensions. In fiscal 2016, U.S. officials reported 408,870 southern border apprehensions and 544,676 suspected in-country overstays.

While overall numbers of migrants crossing illegally are down, since 2014 more families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have begun to trek to the United States in search of safer conditions or economic opportunities, creating a humanitarian crisis.

“Record numbers of migrant families are streaming into the United States, overwhelming border agents and leaving holding cells dangerously overcrowded with children, many of whom are falling sick,” The Washington Post reported Jan. 5. “Two Guatemalan children taken into U.S. custody died in December.”

“Every day Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.”

Southern border apprehensions in fiscal 2018 averaged 30,000 a month (or 1,000 a day). They ticked up in the first two months of fiscal 2019, but it’s a stretch to say “thousands” a day. Better to say “hundreds.”

“Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.”

 In 2017, more than 15,000 people died of drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That works out to about 300 a week.

But while 90 percent of the heroin sold in the United States comes from Mexico, virtually all of it comes through legal points of entry. “A small percentage of all heroin seized by [Customs and Border Protection] along the land border was between Ports of Entry (POEs),” the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a 2018 report. So Trump’s wall would do little to halt drug trafficking. Trump’s repeated claim that the wall would stop drug trafficking is a Bottomless Pinocchio claim.

“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. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”

Trump warns about dangerous criminals, but the numbers he’s citing involve a mix of serious and nonviolent offenses such as immigration violations. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports yearly arrest totals without breaking down the type of offense, which could be anything from homicide to a DUI to illegal entry.

Notice how Trump switches quickly from the 266,000 arrests over twoyears to charges and convictions: “100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings.” In many cases, the people arrested face multiple counts, so that switch gives a confusing picture.

In fiscal 2018, ICE conducted 158,581 administrative arrests for civil immigration violations. The agency’s year-end report says two-thirds (105,140) of those involved people with criminal convictions and one-fifth (32,977) involved people with pending criminal charges. Of the 143,470 administrative arrests in 2017, 74 percent involved people with criminal records and 15.5 percent involved people who had pending charges. But these totals cover all types of offenses — including illegal entry or reentry.

In the fiscal 2018 breakdown, 16 percent of all the charges and convictions were immigration and related offenses.

“This is just common sense. The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress.”

Trump tweeted a similar claim in March, citing a study from the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports more restrictive immigration policies. Essentially, the claim that the wall pays for itself turns on three numbers: a) estimated savings from each undocumented immigrant blocked by the wall, b) the total number of undocumented immigrants stopped over 10 years and, and c) the cost of the wall.

It’s (a) $75,000 multiplied by (b) 160,000 to 200,000 equals (c) $12 billion to $15 billion. So, if the wall actually costs $25 billion, the number of undocumented immigrants halted by the wall would need to be doubled, or one has to assume it would take 20 years to earn the money back. But other experts offer different estimates for each of those numbers.

Plus, as we’ve previously reported, the wall would do little to stop drugs from entering the United States, since they primarily come in through legal points of entry, making the cost of illegal drugs irrelevant to this issue.

“The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”

This is a Four Pinocchio claim. During the campaign, Trump more than 200 times promised Mexico would pay for the wall, which the administration says would cost at least $18 billion. Now he says a minor reworking of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will earn enough money for pay for the wall.

This betrays a misunderstanding of economics. Countries do not “lose” money on trade deficits, so there is no money to earn; the size of a trade deficit or surplus can be determined by other factors besides trade. Congress must still appropriate the money, and the trade agreement has not been ratified.

Live fact-checking and analysis of Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address

President Trump will give his second State of the Union address starting at 9 p.m. Tuesday. He’s expected to call for Congress to pass his immigration policies, and talk about infrastructure, health care, China and Venezuela. The president also is expected to make appeals to “heal old wounds,” according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks.

Here’s a summary of key proposals, pledges or priorities announced by Trump last year and what happened to them.