Fact-checking the President’s Immigration Statements in the SOTU Speech

As expected, immigration featured prominently in President Trump’s State of the Union speech to Congress on February 5, 2019. The President continued his push for border wall funding, using his now familiar appeal to fear.

Statement:  “I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught.”

Facts:  The 396,579 apprehensions at and between southern border posts in FY 2018, while an increase over the prior year, were fewer than the number in FY 2016, and less than a quarter of the more than 1.6 million apprehensions in FY 2000.   Since the recession hit in 2007, apprehensions at the southern border have fallen dramatically, and remain at low levels not seen since the mid-1970s.  Far more people coming legally through ports of entry overstay their visas each year than cross without authorization at the southern border.  And many of those arriving at the southern border are seeking out, not evading, border officials, to request asylum after fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Statement:  “I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”

Facts:  From the Travel Ban, to slow-downs in processing employment-based and immediate family visa petitions, to drastically reducing the number of arriving refugees, to denying asylum seekers their legal right under U.S. and international laws to request asylum when they approach border agents at or between ports of entry, to refusing to support bipartisan legislation that would have given immigrant youth under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a path to permanent residency unless Congress agreed to slash immediate family immigration by hundreds of thousands a year, President Trump has attacked legal immigration from his very first week in office.

Statement: “Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities.”

Facts:  While it’s true that drugs flow over our southern border, the vast majority of them come through our ports of entry, so additional border wall will have little impact on drug smuggling.

Statement: President Trump highlighted the number ICE arrests of noncitizens who had been charged with or convicted of crimes.

Facts:  President Trump ignored the numerous studies showing that noncitizens commit crimes at rates lower than the U.S. population.  Also, ICE data for FY 2018 shows that the President mischaracterized and greatly inflated his crime numbers.   Twenty-five percent were for routine traffic offenses (not including OUI) and immigration law violations, and 28% were for nonviolent crimes.  And when the President cited numbers of specific types of offenses, he  doubled or more than doubled the actual number of those charged or convicted for the specific crimes. 

Statement:   The President said that construction of a border wall near San Diego “almost completely ended illegal crossings.”

Facts:  The Congressional Research Service found that it was the addition of technology and more personnel on the border that led to reduced unauthorized border crossings. The wall by itself “did not have a discernable impact.”

Statement:   President Trump said that El Paso used to have one of the highest violent crime rates prior to construction of the border wall, but after its construction, became one of the nation’s safest cities.

Facts: El Paso’s crime rates fell to record lows in 2006, before the wall was constructed, rose again after its construction in 2008, and have since fallen again. Officials in El Paso say the rate of crime there is unrelated to the wall.

In his speech, President Trump relied on the same falsehoods he has used for months to try to scare the public into support for a wall that will be far less effective than meaningful immigration law reform. Fortunately, the U.S. public is not so easily swayed. Recent polls show that opposition to the border wall has grown since last summer, with a majority of the U.S. public, and of Mainers, opposed.