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The lies Trump is using to justify his border wall shutdown

Separating fact from fiction.

President Donald Trump's border wall fear-mongering is far from reality. (Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump's border wall fear-mongering is far from reality. (Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump rejected compromises from both Democrats and Republicans to re-open the federal government ahead of a border security briefing with Congressional leaders on Wednesday.

Democrats have offered $2.5 billion in border security funding, but because it is half of Trump’s $5 billion demand, it was not accepted. A compromise from some Senate Republicans, which would have given Trump his border wall money while also providing protections to young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, also failed to pass the Trump test.

Faced with a federal government shutdown entering into its 12th day, Trump maintained his hardline stance on immigration and request for $5 billion in border wall funding. By deploying fear-mongering tactics and lies about immigration, the president is attempting to gin up his Republican base while simultaneously trying to convince Democrats of the wall’s necessity.

None of this, of course, is new. In the past, he has painted primarily black and brown immigrants as violent criminals who leech off of the government, and suggested a physical barrier wall will is the only effective deterrent. And earlier this week, he tweeted that “Open Borders” would allow “crime and drugs” to flow into the country unabated, mocking the idea of using technology to enhance security as “meaningless bells & whistles.”

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“Our Southern Border has long been an ‘Open Wound,’ where drugs, criminals (including human traffickers) and illegals would pour into our Country,” he wrote Monday, before pointing a finger at Democrats, who he claimed had abandoned shutdown talks over the holiday break and needed to “fix” the problem. (Weeks earlier, Trump had taken full responsibility for the shutdown himself, saying he would not blame Democrats if there was a lapse in funding.)

In a follow-up tweet, he added, “It’s incredible how Democrats can all use their ridiculous sound bite and say that a Wall doesn’t work. It does, and properly built, almost 100%! They say it’s old technology – but so is the wheel. They now say it is immoral- but it is far more immoral for people to be dying!”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign since he stood in the lobby of Trump Tower and proclaimed Mexico wasn’t “sending [its] best.” And his administration has propped up that same rhetoric, blaming immigrant parents for the deaths of their children in federal custody; refusing to condemn the president when he referred to immigrants from Haiti, several African countries, and El Salvador as citizens of “shithole countries”; and referring to non-criminal immigrants as “animals.”

As recently as Wednesday morning, a top Trump administration official, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, also insisted “fake” immigrant families were presenting themselves at the border in order to stay together — a claim backed by faulty data.

While the president may frequently conflate criminality with immigration to push his agenda, here are the facts.

Nearly 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border already has security fencing

Despite what Trump claims, the current technology and fencing at the southern border are far from “meaningless bells & whistles.”

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The 2,000 mile long border from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas is marked by rough terrain, like the Sierra Madre mountain range in northwest Mexico, that acts primarily as a natural border. Where there is no rugged landscape, the federal government has built nearly 700 miles of border fencing since 2006.

The existing fencing near more populous areas is already relatively tall, at 10 feet. In more rural areas, where the terrain is more difficult to cross by foot, shorter fences are in place to prevent cars from driving across the border.

In addition to the 16,000 Border Patrol agents that have been deployed, military blimps are also used to detect drones that may be used by Mexican cartel members to ferry drugs across the border.

Illegal border crossings have decreased over the last decade

Trump claims that not building a wall will leave the southern border like an “Open Wound,” allowing people to “pour” into the country. However, existing border security has dramatically reduced the number of immigrants who cross between ports of entry over the last decade — all without expensive concrete walls or “beautiful steel slats,” such as the ones Trump tweeted about December 21.

Up until the 1990s, the government reported apprehending around 1 million to 1.6 million immigrants each year who crossed between ports of entry along the southwest border. While the president has described the current immigration system as an “illegal alien mob,” monthly border crossings this year have averaged from 20,000 to 40,000 people. In 2017, arrests of individuals crossing between ports of entry hit a 46-year low.

Immigrants are no more “criminal” than American citizens

Trump has repeatedly treated immigrants as violent threats to the public. Yet immigrants are statistically less likely than the average American citizen to be involved in criminal activity.

Multiple reports have demonstrated that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans. A 2015 study by the libertarian Cato Institute found that the rate at which native-born Americans committed crimes in Texas was a little more than double the rate of undocumented immigrants.

“As a percentage of their respective populations, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015,” senior immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh wrote. “The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate.”

Another study, published this year by Criminology, concluded that cities with a higher population of undocumented immigrants do not have higher rates of violent crime.

This piece was updated to reflect the latest in shutdown negotiations.