After a tumultuous 35 days of partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump declared a temporary end. “It’ll happen fast,” he told his audience in the Rose Garden on Friday.
During his speech, Trump repeated his greatest hits of wall-related claims. Here’s a rundown on the veracity and broader context of some of what he said:
Arrests at the border
“The requests we have put before Congress are vital to ending the humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border.”
Trump has returned to this line time and again in the debate over the border wall. This statement makes two claims: that there’s a security crisis and a humanitarian one at the border. Here’s what the numbers show.
In terms of volume, border apprehensions have increased compared with 2017 but are still well shy of previous years, when arrests topped more than a million. In the early to mid-2000s, there were months when well over 100,000 migrants were apprehended illegally crossing the southern border.
In terms of a humanitarian crisis, the administration has increasingly used this language, saying families won’t try to make an often-dangerous journey to the US if a wall is built. In December, the deaths of two undocumented children in US custody attracted scrutiny on the conditions of US facilities that hold those picked up crossing the border illegally.
In recent years there’s been a shift in the population that’s approached the US-Mexico border – from single men to families and children, many of whom are seeking asylum. In December, US Border Patrol arrested 27,518 family members, up nearly 240% from the previous December, which had 8,120 arrests. They also largely come from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras).
Violence, drought and poor economic conditions in these countries are among the reasons that some have decided to make the journey.
In 2016, nearly half of the people apprehended at the US-Mexico border came from these three countries, compared with roughly 10% in 2010, according to Homeland Security Department data.
“Our country has built 654 miles of barriers over the last 15 years and every career Border Patrol agent I have spoken with has told me that walls work.”
Trump is correct to say that physical barriers cover 654 miles of the southern border, which stretches for nearly 2,000 miles. Here’s a breakdown of the two kinds of fencing that exist:
What’s known as vehicle fencing covers 280 miles. This is fencing that’s low to the ground. It would stop a car, but people can easily step over it. Much of this fencing exists in sparsely populated areas where it would be dangerous for people to travel.
What’s known as pedestrian fencing covers some 374 miles. This is taller and designed to block people from crossing on foot.
Construction of the federally funded border fence as we know it began with a 14-mile stretch near San Diego. Construction started during George H.W. Bush’s presidency and continued into Bill Clinton’s first term. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, which Clinton signed into law in 1996, authorized the fortification of that fencing.
Then, in 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, authorizing the construction of some 700 miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border. Since 2007, Customs and Border Protection says, it’s spent about $2.3 billion on fencing and related infrastructure along the border.
It’s also true that the Border Patrol has identified areas where a wall is useful – but it doesn’t cover the entire southern border and would be paired with other security measures, like enhanced technology.
Strained immigration courts
“Our backlog in the immigration courts is now far greater than the 800,000 cases that you’ve been hearing back over the last couple of years.”
This is true. The nation’s immigration courts have been faced with a massive backlog. The number of pending cases stands at 809,041, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration court data.
The government shutdown has made that worse, as only courts that handle detained dockets (the cases of people who are in immigration detention) were allowed to proceed. A report released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse earlier this month found that an estimated 42,726 immigration court hearings had been canceled as a result of the shutdown. It’s unclear when they’ll be rescheduled.
Keeping drugs out
“I believe drugs, large percentages of which come through the southern border, will be cut by a number that nobody will believe. So let me be very clear we really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.”
It’s important to note upfront that the majority of hard narcotics seized by Customs and Border Protection come through ports of entry. The only drug that is smuggled in higher numbers between legal entry points – where a wall or additional fencing might be built – is marijuana, according to information from CBP and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
For instance, in the fiscal year of 2018 CBP seized 67,292 pounds of methamphetamine at legal ports of entry and 10,382 pounds by Border Patrol agents in between ports, according to available data.
It’s unclear what “border security” measures Trump is talking about here, but if they don’t include a more effective system of vetting what’s coming through our ports of entry, it will likely be a tiny drip in reduction and not the SeaWorld splash Trump suggests.
A wall would cut crime
“I believe that crime in this country can go down by a massive percentage if we have great security on our southern border.”
As a reason to build the wall, Trump has repeatedly cited crimes committed by undocumented immigrants – both during his presidential campaign and his State of the Union address, where he’s also invited the family members of victims.
A 2018 study by the libertarian Cato Institute, which reviewed criminal conviction data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, found that immigrants – legal or illegal – are less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of crimes. Throughout the country, there is also generally a decrease in the number of violent crimes, according to the FBI.
Other studies have found that murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault have not risen alongside the increase in undocumented immigration since 1990, that undocumented immigrants do not contribute to an increase in drug overdoses and DUI deaths, and that young, undocumented immigrants engage in less crime than their American or legal immigrant peers.
Democrats and the wall
“Most of the Democrats in Congress have voted in the past for bills that include walls and physical barriers and very powerful fences.”
There are two pieces of major legislation over the past decade or so that include construction of a physical barrier. Here’s how Democrats voted:
The 2006 Secure Fence Act, which authorized setting up hundreds of miles of fencing on the southern border, is often referenced as a way to support this talking point from Trump. Back then, 26 Senate Democrats voted in favor of it while 17 voted against. In the House, 131 voted against the legislation while 64 voted in favor.
In 2013, 54 Democratic senators supported a provision in an immigration bill that included doubling the existing fencing along the southern border.
While some Democrats have supported legislation involving the construction of physical barriers along the southern border, it’s unclear if most have.
“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shiny sea. We never did. We never proposed that.”
CNN could not find an instance where Trump had proposed a 2,000-mile concrete wall from sea to sea. In his campaign launch in 2015, Trump did say he would “build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall,” but the language is rather imprecise and it’s unclear if he meant the wall would be constructed along the entire southern border.
The President has changed his opinion on concrete vs. steel slat and other materials. In a 2015 campaign speech, he was asked what the wall would be made of: “I’ll tell you what it’s going to be made of. It’s going to be made of hardened concrete, and it’s going to be made out of rebar and steel.”
In an interview last month with the Los Angeles Times, former White House chief of staff John Kelly said the conception of a concrete wall had been abandoned “early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.” Trump rebutted this assertion, however, tweeting in late December that “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!”
CNN’s Geneva Sands and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.