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Fact-checking Trump’s speech about the southern border

President Trump spoke from the Oval Office on border security.
President Trump spoke from the Oval Office on border security.

WASHINGTON — In his prime-time speech to the nation, President Donald Trump wrongly accused Democrats of refusing to pay for border security and ignored the reality of how illicit drugs come into the country as he pitched his wall as a solution to trafficking.

A look at his Oval Office remarks Tuesday night:

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

This is misleading.

In November, C.B.P. apprehended 51,856 people attempting to cross the border illegally. That’s about 1,700 per day. The agency also deemed another 10,600 “inadmissible,” which refers to people who seek lawful entry into the United States but are barred from doing so. Together, that would be over 2,000, but “inadmissible” is not the same thing as illegal entry.


“Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with other Democrats.”

This needs context.

Twenty-six Senate Democrats — including Schumer — voted for a 2006 law that authorized about 700 miles of fencing along the southwest border. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump characterized the 2006 legislation as inadequate, dismissing it as “such a little wall, it was such a nothing wall.” As part of his campaign, Trump promised to build a 1,000-mile concrete border wall. He sometimes calls the wall a fence, though he has also rejected suggestions that it is a fence.

‘‘Democrats will not fund border security.’’

That’s not true. They just won’t fund it the way Trump wants.

Democrats have refused his demand for $5.7 billion to build part of a steel wall across the US-Mexico border

Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the US southern border.


Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

Democrats have also supported broader fence-building as part of deals that also had a path to legal status for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

In 2013, Senate Democrats voted for a failed immigration bill that provided roughly $46 billion for a number of border security measures — including new fencing — but that legislation would have created a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally.

“America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation, but all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”

This needs context.

Some economists argue that immigrants only drive down available jobs and wages for Americans if they are competing for the same jobs as the domestic workforce. In many cases, immigrants — legal or illegal — are seeking jobs that American citizens do not want to do. Kevin Hassett, the White House’s top economist, argued before joining the Trump administration that immigration spurs economic growth and that the United States should double its intake of immigrants.

“Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which flows across our southern border.”

This needs context.

Most heroin smuggled into the United States does come through the southwest border, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest National Drug Assessment report. But most fentanyl enters the United States from packages mailed directly from China through traditional ports of entry, according to the report, and through Canada from China. A lower potency grade of fentanyl is also smuggled across the southwest border from Mexico. The fentanyl directly from China is far more lucrative for sellers because of its purity. The fentanyl sent through conventional mail has proven difficult for law enforcement to detect. Fentanyl coming from Mexico is often hidden in automobile compartments, much like conventional drug smuggling. The president’s opioids commission reported last November that, “we are losing this fight predominately through China.”


“In the last two years, I.C.E. officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records.”

This needs context.

In the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested over 210,876 people with previous criminal convictions, and another 55,233 people with pending criminal charges. But these criminal convictions covered a range of offenses, including many that were nonviolent. The most common charges were for traffic violations, possessing or selling drugs, and immigration offenses.

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


First, the revised North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, has yet to pass in Congress. Any economic benefits from the agreement, if it passes, will likely come in the form of lower tariffs for American companies or higher wages for American workers. This is different than Trump’s campaign promise that Mexico would finance the wall.


“The border wall would very quickly pay for itself.”

This needs context.

The president has claimed that the annual cost of illegal drugs in the United States is $500 billion. But a 2015 report by the surgeon general estimated that the annual economic impact of illicit drug use is $193 billion. Stopping the flow of drugs across the southwest border would not entirely stem the flow of drugs across the United States. Moreover, it is not clear how reducing the cost of drug addiction would finance the wall.

Material from the Associated Press is included in this report.