President Trump has addressed the nation in prime time from the Oval Office, delivered remarks from the Rose Garden, met with Democrats in the Situation Room and traveled to the border with Mexico to make his case that the government would not reopen unless he got funding for a border wall.
Thirty-five days into the shutdown, the president announced on Friday from the Rose Garden that the government would reopen until at least Feb. 15, giving Congress time to work out a deal on border security.
He did not get any funding for a wall. And on Friday, he did not advance any new arguments for building one. In fact, many of the claims he made were recycled heavily from previous comments and contained many of the same misstatements and exaggerations.
Also notable was something Mr. Trump did not say, namely that Mexico would pay for the wall, one of the most often repeated, and unsupported, claims he has made on the border funding dispute.
Mr. Trump continued to inflate figures about crime and drugs.
The essence of Mr. Trump’s pitch for a border wall — that a porous border had led to a crime and drug epidemic — remained unchanged.
Last year, he said, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement “removed 10,000 known or suspected gang members like MS-13 and members as bad as them.” (This is exaggerated; the agency reported it had removed 5,872 “known or suspected” gang members in the 2018 fiscal year.)
In addition, Mr. Trump repeated the statistic that in the past two years, ICE “arrested a total of 266,000 criminal aliens inside of the United States, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 homicides or, as you would call them, violent, vicious killings.” The figures include both charges and convictions, and each arrest may represent multiple offenses. The most common charges were traffic violations and drug and immigration offenses.
“Drugs kill much more than 70,000 Americans a year and cost our society in excess of $ 700 billion,” the president said. The figures are accurate for overdose deaths and the economic costs of addiction. But a border wall would do little to prevent the 35 percent of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids or the $ 627.5 billion in costs incurred because of tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug addiction.
Still, the president pressed the case.
“I believe that crime in this country can go down by a massive percentage if we have great security on our southern border,” Mr. Trump said. “I believe drugs, large percentages of which come through the southern border, will be cut by a number that nobody will believe.”
The claim that a wall would lead to a huge decrease in crime is not supported by statistics. Construction of a wall would not suddenly remove millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States, and there is no evidence of a causal link between immigration and crime. As for drugs, 90 percent of heroin coming into the United States enters through the southern border. But it is mostly smuggled through legal ports of entry and not wall-less areas. Most Fentanyl arrives in the United States from China through the mail.
He exaggerated the numbers of border crossers and cited unverified tales of human trafficking.
Though border crossings have been declining for nearly two decades, Mr. Trump continued to stress the need for a border wall with exaggerated data and overstated claims.
“Last month was the third straight month in a row with 60,000 apprehensions on our southern border,” he said. “Think of that. We apprehended 60,000 people.”
That monthly figure for October and November — data for December was not yet publicly posted — includes the 51,000 people caught illegally crossing the border, as well as the 9,000 to 10,000 people who attempted to enter through legal ports of entry but were deemed “inadmissible” each month. In the 2018 fiscal year, apprehensions at the border averaged 33,000 per month.
And he recounted with graphic detail what happens to victims of smugglers: “Women are tied up. They’re bound. Duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths. In many cases, they can’t even breathe. They’re put in the backs of cars or vans or trucks. They don’t go through your port of entry. They make a right turn going very quickly.”
It is possible that Mr. Trump learned of a duct-taping case from law enforcement officers, but more than a dozen experts in human trafficking told The Washington Post and The Toronto Star that they had not witnessed or heard of such an episode.
For emphasis, he added, “It’s at the worst level — human trafficking — in the history of the world.” Millions of Africans were forcibly enslaved and trafficked during the 15th and 18th centuries.
He claimed public approval of the shutdown and the wall, despite evidence to the contrary.
Mr. Trump thanked federal workers for their sacrifice and support: “Not only did you not complain, but in many cases, you encouraged me to keep going because you care so much about our country and about its border security.” Whatever Mr. Trump may have personally heard, polls have shown the opposite — most civil servants have overwhelmingly opposed the shutdown.
Beyond federal workers, he said, Republicans and Democrats — and, by extension, the American people — are “for complete border security, and they have finally and fully acknowledged that having barriers, fencing or walls — or whatever you want to call it — will be an important part of the solution.”
A Washington Post poll this week noted that surveys have “consistently showed that a majority of Americans do not support the wall.” The Post-ABC News poll found that 54 percent of Americans oppose the project, while 42 percent support it, unchanged from a survey two weeks ago.
And about that evolving wall …
On Friday, the president said, “We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea — we never did.” He added that he had never proposed such a thing.
Dozens of times during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump promised to build a wall along the southwestern border, usually saying it would be 1,000 miles long at varying heights and costs. At times, the building materials changed. He mentioned concrete, steel and, at one point, even a wall that would have solar panels. But a wall and the unsupported pledge that Mexico would pay for it were foundational elements of his campaign, and Mr. Trump has continued to make similar assertions throughout his presidency.