Washington Post: “Fact-checking President Trump’s Oval Office address on immigration.”

by Joseph McKeown

Last week President Trump addressed the nation in a speech about immigration and what he has claimed is a “crisis” at the US-Mexico border. Throughout the course of his nine-minute speech (which was made on the 18th day of the government shutdown), numerous fact-checkers and experts agree that the President painted an exaggerated and overall misleading picture of immigration to the US and the situation at the US-Mexico border. Fact-checkers across mediums confirm that the President’s speech pumped up some numbers, exaggerated the public safety risks of immigration, and repeated false claims regarding funding for the border wall. Below are some of the main points the President made in his first Oval Office address that have been refuted or clarified by fact-checkers and experts: 

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

With border-crossing apprehension at an all-time low (the fiscal 2018 number was just under 400,000, and just over 300,000 in fiscal 2017, the lowest level in more than forty-five years), sources confirm that there are more cases of immigrants overstaying their visa status than there are southern border apprehensions. Indeed, in fiscal 2017, the Department of Homeland Security reported 606,926 suspected in-country overstays, or twice the number of southern border apprehensions. The Washington Post does agree, however, that “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.” 

“All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”

According to a 2016 comprehensive report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, studies on the impact of immigration showed “the seemingly paradoxical result that although larger immigration flows may generate higher rates of unemployment in some sectors, overall, the rate of unemployment for native workers declines.” In December 2018 at a bill-signing event, Trump said illegal immigration costs our nation $275 billion per year,  a figure that, according to Robert Rector, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation was “a little high.” And though experts agree that a precise cost is nearly impossible to ascertain, partly because undocumented immigrants operate within the shadows, Rector said his 2013 estimate pegged the cost of undocumented immigrants at about $54 billion a year. Nevertheless, undocumented immigrants pay taxes in other ways including paying sales taxes on items they purchase, and funding property taxes through rent payments, too, according to Randy Capps, director for research for US programs at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Additionally, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center: “The IRS estimates that undocumented immigrants pay over $9 billion in withheld payroll taxes annually. Undocumented immigrants also help make the Social Security system more solvent, as they pay into the system but are ineligible to collect benefits upon retiring.”

“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.”

Although most heroin smuggled into the US does come from the southwest border, according to a National Drug Threat Assessment report, most of it is smuggled through legal ports of entry and not through the desert, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2017 annual drug threat assessment. A border wall would additionally not address the trafficking of the opioid fentanyl, the “next, more deadly phase” of the opioid crisis, experts agree. Most fentanyl enters the United States from packages mailed directly from China through traditional ports of entry, according to the report, and even the President’s opioids commission reported last November that “we are losing this fight predominately through China.

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

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 most likely come in the form of lower tariffs for American companies or higher wages for American workers,” writes Alan Rapperport in the New York Times. Furthermore, claims that the reworking of NAFTA will earn enough money to pay for the wall “betrays a misunderstanding of economics” according to the Washington Post, as countries “do not lose money on trade deficits, so there is no money to earn.” Even so, Congress must still appropriate the money and, currently, the trade agreement has not been ratified. 

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, responded strongly to the president’s speech: "President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must reopen the government.”