Eighteen days into a government shutdown that began when he announced he announced he wouldn’t sign a bipartisan government funding bill approved by the Senate that didn’t include money for his border wall, President Donald Trump delivered an Oval Office speech on Tuesday night in which he grounded his case for a wall in two false premises.
The first false premise Trump pushed is that a border wall is needed to stop the flow of drugs into the country:
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. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.
Trump’s facts are correct, but the conclusion he draws doesn’t follow from them. The majority of drugs smuggled through the southern border come through official ports of entry — not the areas in between them.
According to a 2015 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration, most heroin smuggled into the country comes in via vehicles driven through “legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods. Body carriers represent a smaller percentage of the heroin movement and they typically smuggle amounts ranging from three to six pounds taped to their torso, or in shoes and backpacks.”
A border wall would do nothing to prevent drugs from being smuggled via vehicles or on persons who enter the US through ports of entry.
The second false premise Trump pushed is that Americans should be afraid that undocumented immigrants will murder their families:
The only thing that is immoral [about the wall] is the politicians who do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized. America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien who just came across the border. The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country.
Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading, and dismembering his neighbor. In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.
Over the last several years, I have met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices and the sadness gripping their souls. How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?
But Trump’s suggestion that undocumented immigrants are more prone to commit acts of violence is false. A 2018 Cato Institute study that looked at crime in Texas found that “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.”
“The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate,” it adds.
In an overview of the relevant social science research published last year, the Washington Post concluded, “Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, with immigrants legally in the United States even less likely to do so.”
Trump’s speech was littered with falsehoods
Trump’s claims about drugs and immigrant crime weren’t the only false ones he pushed during his speech. At another point, he falsely claimed that there has been a “sharp rise in unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy.” But as Vox’s Dara Lind detailed, overall, unauthorized migration to the US has in fact fallen steadily since the Great Recession.
Trump also falsely claimed that the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal which has still not been approved by Congress will “indirectly” pay for the wall. But there is no provision in the trade deal stipulating that Mexico will provide money to the US for a wall.
Though there was speculation heading into the speech that Trump would use the occasion to declare a legally controversial national emergency that could potentially allow him to build the wall without Congress appropriating money for it, he didn’t do so. Instead, he reiterated his demand that Democrats in Congress support legislation that would provide him with $5.7 billion for a wall that is estimated to cost $20 billion or more.
“At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall,” Trump said; the bizarre implication was that this would somehow be a carrot for Democrats.
Following Trump’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered rebuttals in which they indicated they weren’t persuaded by what Trump had to say.
.@SenSchumer: "We don't govern by tantrum...The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall. So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr President, reopen the government & we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now." pic.twitter.com/saWBEFgl2p— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 9, 2019
“We don’t govern by temper tantrum,” Schumer said, after Pelosi reminded Trump that both the Senate and House passed bipartisan bills that would’ve kept the government open, without funding Trump’s wall. “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall. So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President, reopen the government, and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.”