The first misleading statement in President Donald Trump's Oval Office address Tuesday night came in the first sentence.
Trump, addressing a national television audience from behind his desk, warned of a "security crisis at the southern border" - even though the number of people caught trying to cross illegally is near 20-year lows.
Another false claim came moments later, when Trump said border agents "encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country" every day, though his administration puts the daily average for 2018 in the hundreds. A few sentences later, he said 90 percent of the heroin in the United States comes across the border with Mexico, ignoring the fact that most of the drugs come through legal entry points and wouldn't be stopped by the border wall that he is demanding as the centerpiece of his showdown with Democrats.
Over the course of his nine-minute speech, Trump painted a misleading and bleak picture of the situation at the US-Mexico border. He pumped up some numbers, exaggerated the public safety risks of immigration and repeated false claims regarding how to fund a border wall.
The appearance, coming as a partial federal government shutdown resulting from the wall fight enters its third week, underscored the extent to which Trump has relied on false and misleading claims to justify what has long been his signature political issue.
One false claim noticeably absent from the speech was the assertion made by the president and many of his allies in recent days that terrorists are infiltrating the country by way of the southern border. Fact-checkers and TV anchors, including those on Fox News, spent days challenging the truthfulness of the claim.
Below are the truths behind Trump's claims from the Oval Office address:
"Tonight I am speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border."
THE FACTS: By any available measure, there is no new security crisis at the border.
Apprehensions of people trying to cross the southern border peaked most recently at 1.6 million in 2000 and have been in decline since, falling to just under 400,000 in fiscal 2018. The fall is partly because of technology upgrades; tougher penalties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; a decline in migration rates from Mexico; and a sharp rise in the number of Border Patrol officers. The fiscal 2018 number was up from just over 300,000 apprehensions at the US-Mexico border for fiscal 2017, the lowest level in more than 45 years.
There are far more cases of travelers overstaying their visas than southern border apprehensions. In fiscal 2017, the Department of Homeland Security reported 606,926 suspected in-country overstays, or twice the number of southern border apprehensions. In fiscal 2016, US officials reported 408,870 southern border apprehensions and 544,676 suspected in-country overstays.
While overall numbers of migrants crossing illegally are down, since 2014, more families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras began to trek to the United States in search of safer conditions or economic opportunities, creating a humanitarian crisis.
"Record numbers of migrant families are streaming into the United States, overwhelming border agents and leaving holding cells dangerously overcrowded with children, many of whom are falling sick," The Washington Post reported Jan. 5. "Two Guatemalan children taken into US custody died in December."
"Every day Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country."
THE FACTS: Southern border apprehensions in fiscal 2018 averaged 30,000 a month (or 1,000 a day). They ticked up in the first two months of fiscal 2019, but it's a stretch to say "thousands" a day. Better to say "hundreds."
"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. Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans."
THE FACTS: Some context here: In general, economists say illegal immigration tends to affect less-educated and low-skilled American workers the most, which disproportionately encompasses black men and recently arrived, low-educated legal immigrants, including Latinos.
The US Commission on Civil Rights in 2010 found that illegal immigration has tended to depress wages and employment for black men. However, there are other factors at play, and "halting illegal immigration is not a panacea even for the problem of depressed wage rates for low-skilled jobs," it found.
The consensus among economic research studies is that the impact of immigration is primarily a net positive for the US economy and to workers overall, especially over the long term. According to a comprehensive 2016 report by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the economic impacts of the U.S. immigration system, 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."
"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."
THE FACTS: In 2017, more than 15,000 people died of drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That works out to about 300 a week.
But while 90 percent of the heroin sold in the United States comes from Mexico, virtually all of it comes through legal points of entry. "A small percentage of all heroin seized by CBP along the land border was between Ports of Entry (POEs)," the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a 2018 report. So Trump's wall would do little to halt drug trafficking. Trump's repeated claim that the wall would stop drug trafficking is one of his more dubious.
The Associated Press also highlighted this claim in its own fact-check:
A wall can't do much about that when drug trafficking is concentrated at land ports of entry, not remote stretches of the border.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says "only a small percentage" of heroin seized by US authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. The same is true of drugs generally.
In a 2018 report, the agency said the most common trafficking technique by transnational criminal organizations is to hide drugs in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers as they drive into the US though entry ports, where they are stopped and subject to inspection. They also employ buses, cargo trains and tunnels, the report says, citing other smuggling methods that also would not be choked off by a border wall.
Trump recently denied that traffickers use entry ports at the southern border, contradicting the evidence and assertions of his drug enforcement personnel.
Trump stretched credulity even more by comparing the wall money he wants from Congress to the cost of the entire drug problem in the US: "The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress."
"In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now."
THE FACTS: Trump warns about dangerous criminals, but the numbers he's citing involve a mix of serious and nonviolent offenses such as immigration violations. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports yearly arrest totals without breaking down the type of offense, which could be anything from homicide to a DUI to illegal entry.
Notice how Trump switches quickly from the 266,000 arrests over two years to charges and convictions: "100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings." In many cases, the people arrested face multiple counts, so that switch gives a confusing picture.
In fiscal 2018, ICE conducted 158,581 administrative arrests for civil immigration violations. The agency's year-end report says two-thirds (105,140) of those involved people with criminal convictions and one-fifth (32,977) involved people with pending criminal charges. Of the 143,470 administrative arrests in 2017, 74 percent involved people with criminal records and 15.5 percent who had pending charges. But these totals cover all types of offenses - including illegal entry or reentry.
In the fiscal 2018 breakdown, 16 percent of all the charges and convictions were immigration and related offenses.
"Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs."
THE FACTS: No government statistic tracks children smuggled in by bad actors, "coyotes" or "drug gangs." What Trump is referring to is CBP's number for family unit apprehensions, a monthly statistic. The family unit by definition must include at least one parent or legal guardian and one minor. (There's a separate figure for unaccompanied alien children.)
That number was 25,172 in November, the most recent month for which data are available, but it's wrong to describe it as a statistic that represents children being "smuggled" into the country.
Trump describes this as 20,000 children, but it could be many more considering that some families have multiple children. More important, Trump describes this as children being smuggled in by coyotes or drug gangs, but border officials screen for false claims of parentage. To imply as Trump does that a child's mother, father or legal guardian is a smuggler, coyote or drug gang member in all of these cases is wrong.
"Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home."
THE FACTS: The Trump administration considers the Flores settlement agreement a loophole. That policy requires the government to release unaccompanied immigrant children who are caught crossing the border within 20 days to shelters, family members or "least restrictive" settings.
The president also wants to tighten US asylum laws generally and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, with the goal of restricting some immigrants' opportunities to file asylum petitions. Trump describes these asylum provisions as "border security loopholes," but supporters call them core provisions of U.S. laws that cover refugees.
"Finally, as part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall."
THE FACTS: Trump suggests that Democrats requested a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall, but the proposed switch to steel was an idea the Trump administration brought up. No Democrats are on record demanding a steel barrier along the US-Mexico border.
"This is just common sense. The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress."
THE FACTS: Trump tweeted a similar claim in March, citing a study from the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports more restrictive immigration policies. Essentially, the claim that the wall pays for itself turns on three numbers: a) estimated savings from each undocumented immigrant blocked by the wall, b) the total number of undocumented immigrants stopped over 10 years and, and c) the cost of the wall.
It's (a) $75,000 multiplied by (b) 160,000 to 200,000 equals (c) $12 billion to $15 billion. So, if the wall actually costs $25 billion, the number of undocumented immigrants halted by the wall would need to be doubled, or one has to assume it would take 20 years to earn the money back. But other experts offer different estimates for each of those numbers.
Plus, as we've previously reported, the wall would do little to stop drugs from entering the United States, since they primarily come in through legal points of entry, making the cost of illegal drugs irrelevant to this issue.
"The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico."
THE FACTS: This is a Four Pinocchio claim. During the campaign, Trump more than 200 times promised Mexico would pay for the wall, which the administration says would cost at least $18 billion. Now he says a minor reworking of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will earn enough money for pay for the wall.
This betrays a misunderstanding of economics. Countries do not "lose" money on trade deficits, so there is no money to earn; the size of a trade deficit or surplus can be determined by other factors besides trade. Congress must still appropriate the money, and the trade agreement has not been ratified.
The Associated Press also highlighted this statement in its fact check, saying:
Mexico is not paying for the wall despite what Trump promised during the 2016 campaign, and nothing in the trade agreement would cover or refund the construction cost.
Trump is assuming a wide variety of economic benefits will come from the agreement, but they can't be quantified or counted on. For example, he has said the deal will dissuade some US companies from moving operations to Mexico and he credits that possibility as a payment by Mexico for his wall.
The deal updates the North American Free Trade Agreement, in the main preserving NAFTA's liberalized environment of low or no tariffs among the US, Mexico and Canada, while making certain improvements for each country. Trump stated inaccurately that it's "brand new. It's totally different."
Moreover, it's not in effect. The deal has yet to be ratified in any member country and its chances of winning legislative approval are not assured.
"Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected president."
THE FACTS: Schumer, Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized building a fence along nearly 700 miles of the border between the United States and Mexico. But the fence they voted for is not as substantial as the wall Trump is proposing. Trump himself has called the 2006 fence a "nothing wall."
Here are several other aspects of Trumps speech which The Associated Press conducted its own fact check on:
TRUMP: "Democrats will not fund border security."
THE FACTS: That's not true. They just won't fund it the way he wants. They 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.
The 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act had money to double the number of miles of fencing, to 1,126 km, as well as for more border patrol agents. It also had a mandatory employment verification system to ensure all US employees are authorized to work in the country. In exchange, however, the bill allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to apply for a provisional legal status if they paid a $500 fine and had no felony convictions.
As well many Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which has resulted in the construction of about 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) of border barrier. But that legislation didn't authorize the kind of wall Trump has long been advocating since he launched his campaign.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: "The fact is: President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation - many of them veterans." — response to Trump's remarks.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, Senate Democratic leader: "The president of the United States - having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill - has shut down the government." — response to Trump.
THE FACTS: That's one way to look at it. But it takes two sides to shut down the government. Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for his border wall is one reason for the budget impasse. The refusal of Democrats to approve the money is another.
TRUMP: "Over the years thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now."
THE FACTS: His statement that people in the country illegally are a special menace to public safety is at odds with plentiful research.
Multiple studies from social scientists and the libertarian think tank Cato Institute have found that people here illegally are less likely to commit crime than US citizens, and legal immigrants are even less likely to do so.
A March study by the journal Criminology found "undocumented immigration does not increase violence."
The study, which looked at the years 1990 through 2014, said states with bigger shares of such people have lower crime rates.As well, a study in 2017 by Robert Adelman, a sociology professor at University of Buffalo, analyzed 40 years of crime data in 200 metropolitan areas and found that immigrants helped lower crime.
New York City, for example, has the nation's largest population of immigrants living in the country illegally — about 500,000 — and last year had only 289 murders among a total population of 8.5 million people, according to preliminary data. Those numbers mean a person's odds of becoming a victim of homicide in tightly packed, diverse New York City were about the same as they were in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.
Those numbers mean a person's odds of becoming a victim of homicide in tightly packed, diverse New York City were about the same as they were last year in Montana.
And Ruben Rumbaut, a University of California, Irvine sociology professor, co-authored a recent study that noted crime rates fell sharply from 1990 to 2015 at a time when illegal immigration spiked.