On April 26, President Trump reached a disturbing milestone: according to the Washington Post fact checker, he uttered his 10,000th false or misleading statement since assuming office. Not surprisingly, many of these falsehoods revolve around immigration, particularly the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, the very next day, at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the president blew past the 10,000 mark in part through a distorted portrayal of immigrants at the border. Among his more flagrant deviations from the truth were the following:
- “Last month alone 100,000 illegal immigrants arrived in our borders, placing a massive strain on communities and schools and hospitals and public resources like nobody’s ever seen before.”
In fact, the number of unauthorized immigrants coming to the United States each year is at a 25-year low. The 92,607 southwest border apprehensions that Trump refers to include not only unauthorized immigrants, but large numbers of asylum seekers as well. Yet the two are far from being the same. The asylum seekers who Trump is calling “illegal” are not attempting to cross surreptitiously into the country; rather, they are presenting themselves to border-enforcement agents and requesting safe haven—which is their legal right. Most hail from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—where horrific levels of violence perpetrated by gangs, as well as security forces, is driving people from their homes. It is telling that apprehensions in March included roughly 9,000 unaccompanied children and 37,000 “family units”—neither of which fits the stereotype of unauthorized immigrants as lone men trying to sneak over the border in search of jobs. Sadly, the Trump administration’s border enforcement strategy remains largely unchanged even as the nature of the challenge has changed dramatically.
- “We’re building the wall, by the way, we’re going to have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year.”
In truth, none of Trump’s much-touted concrete wall has been built. Congress forbade that any funds appropriated for border enforcement be used to build the wall. Rather, appropriated funds can be used only for new stretches of fencing of the types already in use, or to replace existing fencing. Trump used existing funds from the Pentagon and Treasury Department to build about 83 miles of fencing. Added to the 175 miles built by Congress, that amounts to 258 miles of new fencing, which Trump rhetorically transforms into more than 400 miles of “wall.”
- “Obviously open borders bring tremendous crime.”
More than a century’s worth of research shows that immigration is not associated with higher crime rates and that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to commit crimes. This is true both of immigrants in general and unauthorized immigrants in particular. For instance, a 2018 study from criminologist Michael Light and his colleagues found that, between 1990 and 2014, locales with larger shares of unauthorized immigrants had lower rates of violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault). The researchers found the same pattern for nonviolent crime, such as drug offenses and driving under the influence (DUI).
- “The flood of illegal migration is the direct consequence of Democrat-backed policies that prevent border violators from being promptly returned home. They’re allowed to stay in our country, catch and release. They’re allowed—you catch them and then you have to release. It is crazy.”
Again, Trump demonstrates little understanding of what it means to seek asylum. Under U.S. and international law, an asylum seeker is not an unauthorized immigrant and should not be treated in the same way. Promptly returning them to the country from which they are fleeing would be inhumane and might actually be a death sentence in some cases. And, for all his talk of “catch and release,” Trump overlooks the fact that 85 percent of all deportations in this country are quickly ordered without so much as a single hearing before a judge.
President Trump’s tenuous relationship with reality extends to his understanding of the current situation at the southwest border. Contrary to his repeated, fact-free assertions, the influx of asylum seekers from Central America is not a crisis of “illegal immigration.” Despite the absence of the border wall he falsely claims is being built, and which he deems so essential to border security, unauthorized immigration is the lowest it’s been in decades. And the vast majority of the migrants who are coming to the border, be they asylum seekers or unauthorized border-crossers, are not bringing crime with them.
Those are truths.