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Fact-checking Trump's immigration speech

As the hours tick down to the critical midterm elections, President Donald Trump continues to focus attentio...

Posted: Nov 2, 2018 8:55 AM
Updated: Nov 2, 2018 8:55 AM

As the hours tick down to the critical midterm elections, President Donald Trump continues to focus attention on immigration, casting it as a threat and a cost to American taxpayers.

In a speech on Thursday afternoon, he made a series of assertions about a group of Central American migrants traveling north together in a group toward the US-Mexico border. Some expected Trump to announce new policies on asylum, but instead he hit on many of the same tropes that have been mainstays of his presidency. We dug into a handful of his claims to check their veracity.

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Territorial and national borders

The President estimated the number of people trying to cross the border illegally

Claim: The President said "every day above and beyond our existing lawful admission programs, roughly 1,500 to 2,000 people try crossing our borders illegally."

Fact-check: This is unclear.

Available Customs and Border Protection data shows a total of 396,579 people were apprehended by the US Border Patrol for FY 2018 at the southwest border, which would mean an average of 1,087 each day. The numbers differ each month. The highest number of apprehensions of individuals crossing the border illegally was in September, with a daily average of nearly 1,400.

Historically, CBP has used apprehensions as a measure of illegal crossings.

If the President is also including the 124,511 individuals deemed inadmissible for entry to the US at lawful ports of entry, the average over the court of the year would be just over 1,400 a day.

The President talked about violence breaking out between the caravan and Mexican police

Claim: The President said "it's like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border. We saw that two days ago ... they have overrun the Mexican police, and they have overrun and hurt badly Mexican soldiers."

Fact-check: This claim is partially true but misleadingly seeks to smear a group of thousands with the actions of a few.

CNN has reported that there were clashes between one group of migrants and Mexican forces on Sunday.

"While this group continues its journey, other large groups of Central American migrants are following in their footsteps -- including another group of about 3,000 people who reached the Guatemala-Mexico border on Sunday. The situation quickly spiraled out of control," according to CNN en Español correspondent Michelle Mendoza, who reported from the scene. Migrants threw rocks and sticks. Mexican forces threw tear gas. In the clashes, a 26-year-old Honduran national, Henry Adalid Díaz Reyes, ended up dead, according to the Guatemalan Attorney General's Office. Authorities are investigating. Several other migrants and police officers sustained minor injuries. Mexican Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete condemned the violence, stating that "aggressors" had arrived armed with Molotov cocktails. "The only way to enter Mexico is following immigration laws," he said."

The President said Mexico has offered asylum to some members of the caravan.

Claim: "Mexico has agreed to take them in and encouraged them to stay, but they don't want to stay. They want to come into the United States, so this is no longer safety, and asylum is about safety."

Fact-check: This is misleading.

CNN has reported some migrants traveling with the caravan have applied for asylum in Mexico.

"Under a plan dubbed 'Estas en tu Casa' (You're at Home), officials said migrants of working age could apply for asylum and would be eligible for certain jobs -- provided they stay in Chiapas or Oaxaca, two southern Mexican states. The migrants are currently in Oaxaca, hundreds of miles from the US border and likely weeks -- or even months -- away from any attempt to cross it. Even before Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's announcement, more than 2,700 migrants from this large group had filed paperwork seeking asylum in Mexico, and hundreds had voluntarily agreed to return to their home country. But thousands more kept heading north."

The President claims the military is putting up thousands of tents to hold migrants

Claim: The President said, "We're putting up massive cities of tents. The military is helping us incredibly well with. I want to thank the Army Corps of Engineers. They have been so efficient, so good, so talented, we have thousands of tents. We have a lot of tents."

Fact-check: This is misleading.

A US defense official speaking on background says there are no plans as of now to build tents for migrants. While the administration has housed unaccompanied children in Tornillo, Texas, the President appears to be talking about tents currently being constructed. On Tuesday, the general in charge of Northern Command, General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, said for "'Operation Faithful Patriot' as it sits right now, the request that we have from Department of Homeland Security and CBP is to build tents to support CBP personnel and our military personnel."

The President talked about how infrequently undocumented immigrants show up for court proceedings after they are released from US custody.

Claim: "We're not letting them into our country, and they never show up. Almost like a level of 3%. They never show up for the trial, so by the time their trial comes, they are gone."

Fact-check: Trump is giving the false impression that undocumented immigrants "never" show up for court proceedings after they're released from US custody. Through June of this year, 26% of deportation cases were decided in absentia, without the immigrants present, according to the latest statistics from the Justice Department. That means about three-quarters showed up for their hearings. Even the Trump-friendly Center for Immigration Studies noted that most immigrants showed up for court proceedings in 2017.

The President talked about the number of non-citizens in the country going through certain immigration proceedings.

Claim: "There are now nearly 700,000 aliens inside the United States awaiting adjudication of their claims."

Fact-check: This claim is essentially true.

Justice Department statistics show that in 2018 there are 786,303 pending cases with the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Justice Department body that adjudicates these claims. According to Justice Department, the statistics include removal, deportation, asylum and several other categories of cases.

The President talked about the scourge of human trafficking, linking it to illegal immigration.

Claim: "Human trafficking is now at the highest level in the world that it's ever been."

Fact-check: It is difficult to discern if this is true, in large part because Trump's claim covers all of human history. More than 40 million people are in "modern slavery," according to United Nations figures from 2016. These victims are involved in forced labor, sex trafficking and forced marriages -- shameful practices that disproportionately affect women. They may or may not have been transported across national borders, and may not be considered immigrants (undocumented or otherwise) -- though undocumented people are especially vulnerable to being trafficked.

The Trump administration has touted its efforts to root out the problem by stepping up prosecutions and supporting legislation to combat online sex trafficking. (On a related note, Trump's comments ignored perhaps the most significant human trafficking episode in history. From the 1500s through the 1800s, as many as 30 million Africans were captured and sold as part of the transatlantic slave trade, according to UN estimates.)

The President gave the impression that the federal government is already starting to build the border wall that he has made a signature priority.

Claim: "... Including the building of the wall, which we've already started. $1.6 billion spent last year, $1.6 billion this year. We have another $1.6 [billion] that will be coming but we want to build it one time."

Fact-check: This is misleading. While he's right that $1.6 billion was approved by Congress, this is only a fraction of the $25 billion in requested funds, and the money has mostly gone to repairs, not new construction. By claiming that construction is already underway, Trump appears to be taking credit, as he has in the past, for a project that Customs and Border Protection has been requesting for years and is entirely separate from his well-known proposal to build a wall along the full length of the southern border.

In San Diego, the federal government is replacing 14 miles of a 46-mile border fence with a stronger wall, but only about half has been replaced so far, according to a CBP spokesman.

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