Originally Published in The Washington Post
Salvador Rizzo - January 13, 2021
Here’s a roundup of some of Trump’s false or misleading claims from his remarks in Alamo, Tex., one of his final events in office. Our practice is not to award Pinocchios when we round up multiple claims, but Trump as usual butchered the facts with his spin about immigrants, ending his term as it began. Imagine a bunch of bouncing Pinocchios as you read through his spin.
“When I took office, we inherited a broken, dysfunctional and open border. Everybody was pouring in. … We reformed our immigration system and achieved the most secure southern border in U.S. history. It is at a level that it’s never been before.”
This is mostly wrong. The Trump administration built hundreds of miles of fortified fencing along the border and clamped down on asylum requests and legal migration. But hundreds of thousands of migrants already were being apprehended under the Obama administration in the years before Trump took office.
After an initial decline in the yearly totals of unauthorized migrants detained at the southern border, the number of such apprehensions spiked in 2019, so Trump’s claim to having the “most secure southern border in U.S. history” is dubious at best.
Unauthorized migration “had been generally declining” from 2000 to 2017, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. But then it jumped.
“After reaching an all-time peak of 1,643,679 in FY2000, apprehensions fell to a 45-year low of 303,916 in FY2017,” the report notes. “In FY2018 apprehensions increased to 396,579, and in FY2019 they more than doubled to 851,508.”
“We’ve arrested nearly 500,000 illegal aliens with criminal records, some with very serious criminal records of the type you don’t want to know about, like murder.”
It’s unclear where Trump is getting this figure. For fiscal 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported 103,603 administrative arrests, down 28 percent from 2019. That’s far from half a million. ICE added that 90 percent of the administrative arrests involved people with a prior conviction, and the agency said it contributed to 4,360 criminal arrests in 2020.
Trump often suggests, as in these remarks, that everyone arrested by ICE has committed a violent crime, “like murder,” but many have only immigration or nonviolent offenses on their records.
“One of the biggest loopholes we closed was asylum fraud under the old broken system. If you merely requested asylum, you were released into the country. The most ridiculous thing anyone’s ever seen. And we were taking in some people that you didn’t want to have in your country. We instituted a series of historic policy changes to shut down asylum fraud, and that’s what we did.”
Wrong on multiple levels. Trump sharply curtailed the U.S. asylum system, lowering caps on yearly admissions. Before his changes, it was not enough merely to request asylum to enter the country, as Trump claimed. Applicants had to undergo an interview with immigration officials and show a “credible fear” of persecution or torture in their home country.
Trump’s strict new asylum rules were set to take effect Monday, but they were blocked by a federal judge in San Francisco.
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, under these critical asylum cooperation agreements, the burden of illegal immigration is now shared all across the region. Now, when an illegal immigrant is arrested at our border, they can be sent to a neighboring country instead of into a U.S. community. Before my getting here, countries wouldn’t accept them. They would say, no, no, no. … They said they won’t take them back. They came. They may be murderers, they may be cartel heads. They may be some really vicious people. The countries didn’t want them back. And I stopped all payments to those countries. I stopped everything going to those countries. And after we stopped for about a month, you remember after we stopped for about a month, they called. They said we’d love to have them back.”
Trump often fabricates conversations in which he stuns various heads of state with his knowledge or negotiating skills and they bend to his will.
His claim that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras “wouldn’t accept” deportees prior to the Trump administration’s regional asylum negotiations, which date to 2018, is flat-out false. The three countries accepted hundreds of thousands of returnees from the United States every year, both before and during Trump’s term, official statistics show.
“We also have, and we had, but we have them all the time, we have terrorists from the Middle East coming into our country through the southern border. That was before what you see right here [gestures at border wall], because it was easier to come into our country through the southern border than it was through airports or any other means. … These are people from some very seriously dangerous places in the Middle East. And the numbers are far greater than anybody would understand.”
The Trump administration first asserted this in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, offering a range of misleading statistics to buttress the claim that terrorists from the Middle East were filtering through the U.S.-Mexico border. But administration officials never offered any proof or identified a single terrorist.
In reports issued during the Trump administration, the State Department said that there was “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States” and that “there have been no cases of terrorist groups exploiting these gaps to move operations through the region.”