Fact Check: Trump’s Rationale for a National Emergency Is Based on False or Misleading Claims

Fact Check

Trump’s Rationale for a National Emergency Is Based on False or Misleading Claims

To justify redirecting federal funds to a wall, the president made a litany of assertions about crime, drugs and other issues on the southern border. Nearly all were misleading, exaggerated or false.

As President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday to bypass Congress and build his long-promised wall, he again painted a portrait of a lawless, chaotic border and cited arguments about the effectiveness of the kind of barrier he has in mind that were not rooted in facts.

Illegal border crossings have been declining for decades. While families are overwhelming an immigration system devised to handle single men, a border wall would not prevent them from seeking asylum, which is legal. Research does not show that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. And a wall would do little to prevent drugs and human trafficking at the border, as official ports of entry are the main route into the United States for both.

Cumulatively, Mr. Trump’s unsupported or misleading statements undercut his rationale for declaring an emergency, a step that is widely viewed as testing both constitutional and political norms and is sure to draw legal challenges.

What Was Said

“In El Paso they have close to 2,000 murders right on the other side of the wall. And they had 23 murders. It’s a lot of murders. But it’s not close to 2,000 murders right on the other side of the wall in Mexico.”

Mr. Trump is correct that there were 23 murders in El Paso last year, compared with more than 1,200 murders in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. But the disparity predates the existence of border barriers separating the two towns.

In 2007, the year before border fencing construction began, El Paso reported 17 murders while Juárez recorded about 320 homicides, before the drug war between cartels escalated.

In 2010, after the barriers were largely completely, El Paso recorded five murders before the number increased to 16 murders a year later. That same year, murders in Juárez topped 3,600 before declining to over 2,000 in 2011.

What Was Said

“When you look and when you listen to politicians — in particular, certain Democrats — they say it all comes through the port of entry. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s just a lie. It’s all a lie.”

Mr. Trump was referring to the flow of drugs across the border and disputing arguments that most smuggling takes place not in remote areas where a wall might be built but through authorized border crossing points, or ports of entry. The relevant statistics come from Mr. Trump’s own agencies, not Democrats. Data from Customs and Border Protection shows that 80 percent to 90 percent of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl is seized at ports of entry (marijuana is the exception). The Drug Enforcement Administration noted that a “small percentage of all heroin” is seized at areas between ports of entry.

What Was Said

“You can’t take human traffic — women and girls — you can’t take them through ports of entry.”

You can. For example, the Justice Department recently detailed how an international sex trafficking ring committed visa fraud to transport women from Thailand into the United States and coerce them into the sex trade.

About 80 percent of human trafficking victims passed through official ports of entry, according to a decade’s worth of data collected by the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative. The Polaris Project, a group that works to prevent human trafficking in the United States, said in a statement that out of nearly 50,000 cases it has handled, “the vast majority of victims” arrive through ports of entry.

What Was Said

“Take a look at Israel. They’re building another wall. Their wall is 99.9 percent effective, they told me. 99.9 percent.”

Israel built a wall along its border with Egypt in 2013, and it has proved to be effective. Israeli officials have said that illegal crossings decreased to 12 in 2014 from more than 16,000 in 2011 — a 99 percent reduction.

Whether that example could be applied to the United States is another matter, as PolitiFact has reported. The border between Israel and Egypt is much shorter than the United States-Mexico border, along flat land as opposed to mountainous terrain. Israel also invested in technology and manpower to guard its border.

What Was Said

“And the people that say we create precedent, well, what do you have 56 or a lot of times that is creating precedent.”

Mr. Trump is right that previous presidents have issued 58 national emergency declarations since 1978, 30 of which are still in effect. But those declarations have largely dealt with crises and conflicts abroad.

Examples include blocking transactions with the Taliban, prohibiting the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone, placing restrictions on North Korea and allowing faster treatment during the swine flu outbreak in 2009.

Mr. Trump’s declaration, however, is extraordinary in that it addresses a domestic policy issue and involves redirecting money without the approval of Congress.

What Was Said

“I went through Congress. I made a deal. I got almost $ 1.4 billion when I wasn’t supposed to get $ 1, not $ 1, he’s not going to get $ 1. Well, I got $ 1.4 billion, but I’m not happy with it.”

The funding deal passed by Congress on Thursday authorized $ 1.375 billion for border fencing, which is less than the $ 1.6 billion that senators proposed last June and that Mr. Trump rejected. Asked about his reaction to the reduced funding, Mr. Trump misleadingly cited comments made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

At a news conference in January, while the government was still partially shut down, Ms. Pelosi jokingly said that she would agree to give Mr. Trump $ 1 for his border wall. But Ms. Pelosi and Democrats have consistently drawn a distinction between the wall and border security, referring to employing technology enhancements and additional personnel as well barriers. At that same January news conference, Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats promoted a bill that included $ 1.3 billion for border fencing and would have temporarily reopened the government.

Other claims:

Mr. Trump also repeated four other claims about immigration and his border wall that The New York Times has previously fact-checked:

  • He misleadingly claimed that he had already “done a lot of wall.” (The first extension of barriers built before Mr. Trump took office, 14 miles, is scheduled to begin this month — a tiny portion of the 1,000-mile wall he promised.)

  • He falsely claimed that the money for the wall was coming from the revised North American Free Trade Agreement. (Any additional federal revenue from the trade deal, which is not guaranteed, would still be coming from American consumers, not Mexico.)

  • He claimed, with no evidence, that the man charged in a Manhattan truck attack sponsored “22 or 23 or 35 of his family members” to immigrate to the United States. (This is not possible, as the man was a green-card holder who would not have been able to sponsor extended family.)

  • He claimed, with no evidence, that other countries are “putting some very bad people” in the diversity visa lottery. (Individuals enter the lottery on their own, and must pass a screening process that bars criminals and the indigent.)

Curious about the accuracy of a claim? Email factcheck@nytimes.com.

Linda Qiu is a fact-check reporter, based in Washington. She came to The Times in 2017 from the fact-checking service PolitiFact. @ylindaqiu

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