During a speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump laid out his case for full funding for his long-promised border wall by repeating several of the misstatements and exaggerations that his administration has been trumpeting for weeks.
Trump cast immigrants with a dark brush, listing off murders committed by undocumented immigrants without mentioning that immigrants actually have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans. He said drugs were pouring across the southern border without mentioning that the vast majority cross through ports of entry, not the vast stretches in between where he wants to erect his wall.
And he blamed Democrats for an ongoing government shutdown that he proudly claimed as his own just a month ago during a meeting with congressional Democrats.
More: Read the full speech yourself
Trump notably skipped over controversial claims made by his top officials in recent days that attempted to link terrorism with migration across the southern border. But he still managed to stretch the truth in a variety of ways. Here’s a look at some of the claims Trump made during his 9-minute speech:
The border wall
The border wall that he championed during his presidential campaign was the main reason Trump delivered his White House address on Tuesday. And on that topic, he made some claims that were right, and some that weren’t.
He claimed that some people had called his push for a wall “immoral.” On that point, he was right. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “a wall is an immorality between countries.”
But Trump also claimed that he changed his mind from a concrete wall to a steel one “at the request of Democrats.” In fact, it was a request from his own Border Patrol agents that led him to the change, a fact that Trump himself Tweeted last month.
In December, he tweeted that “the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through,” leading to the rows of steel bars that would make up vast sections of his ever-evolving border wall system.
Trump also claimed that Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, supported a “physical barrier” before and “changed their mind only after I was elected president.” Schumer and other Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, but that law funded about 700 miles of fencing, not a wall to span the entire 2,000-mile border.
Drugs entering U.S.
The national opioid crisis that has become so deadly that it led to a rare moment of bipartisanship last year, with Trump signing a sweeping, bipartisan bill to crack down on the epidemic. During his speech, he said 90 percent of those drugs enter the country along the southern border, “including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.”
What the president didn’t mention is that the vast majority of those drugs enter through ports of entry along the border, not the vast stretches in between where he wants to erect his border wall. According to data from Customs and Border Protection, during the first 11 months of the 2018 fiscal year, 90 percent of the heroin intercepted at the border, 88 percent of the cocaine, 87 percent of methamphetamine, and 80 percent of fentanyl, are captured at a legal port of entry.
Trump said Democrats “will not fund border security,” but immediately after taking over the House of Representatives last week, they passed a funding bill dedicated to border security. It just didn’t include funding for his wall.
The bill, passed on Jan. 3 with the support of five Republicans, would have devoted $1.3 billion for fencing and more for border security. The bill would have funded the Department of Homeland Security at current spending levels through Feb. 8 – but it would include no funding for Trump’s border wall, which is at the heart of the current government shutdown.
Trump quickly dismissed that bill.
Democrats have also proposed other border security plans that focus on using technology along the southern border and improvements to ports of entry, through which most illegal drugs enter the country.
Immigrants and crime
In his speech, Trump cited several criminal cases as evidence of dangerous criminals crossing the southern border. Here’s more about those cases.
In California, Newman Police Department Cpl. Ronil Singh was killed during a traffic stop last month. Police later identified the suspect as Paulo Virgen Mendoza and said he was in the U.S. illegally and had a history of DUI. They blamed a 2017 California law that limits local officers’ ability to cooperate with immigration officials, saying Mendoza would have been deported otherwise. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown rejected that claim, saying Mendoza’s past arrests happened before the new law.
In Georgia, 77-year-old Robert Page was found killed and dismembered in November. Police arrested Christian Ponce Martinez, 25, and said he had recently moved from Mexico. But ICE officials did not confirm his immigration status.
In California, Air Force veteran Marilyn Pharis, 64, was attacked, raped, and later died following a violent encounter in 2015. Victor Aureliano Martinez was arrested and convicted in the attack, along with another man. Martinez was in the country illegally.
Santa Barbara sheriff’s officials said Martinez had been arrested for driving without a license in 2009, and in 2014 was in custody tied to a charge of felony assault with intent to commit sexual assault. After that case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked Santa Barbara officials to place a detention hold on Ramirez, which would ensure immigration officials got custody of Ramirez before his release. But after the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, Santa Barbara officials released Ramirez because California law only allowed migrants to be held related to serious crimes.
While Trump cited these killings and frequently cites others, multiple studies indicate that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than the U.S. population as a whole. And Americans may actually be safer around immigrants than they are around citizens.
The libertarian Cato Institute has concluded that the homicide arrest rate for native-born citizens is “about 46 percent higher than the illegal immigrant homicide arrest rate.”
Contributing: Kristen DelGuzzi, Louie Villalobos and Alan Gomez of USA TODAY; Josh Susong, Daniel Gonzalez, Dan Nowicki, Michael Squires, and Dennis Wagner of the Arizona Republic; and Zahira Torres of the El Paso Times.