Assessing Trump’s and Biden’s Claims About Immigration and Border Security


Large numbers of migrant apprehensions at the southern border have vaulted immigration and border security onto the list of top concerns for voters.

Public polling shows support for former President Donald J. Trump’s hard-line approach, and President Biden, who made overturning Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda part of his platform in 2020, has recently reversed course and issued a more restrictive border policy.

But some of Mr. Trump’s most-repeated statements are inaccurate, in warning about the level of illegal immigration, characterizing unauthorized migrants as criminals taking advantage of government handouts and touting the effectiveness of his own policies. Mr. Biden, too, has occasionally overstated his earlier proposals on border security.

Here is a fact check.

What Was Said

“We had the strongest border ever. I built 571 miles of wall. We’re going to add another 200 in three weeks. It was all made, all fabricated. They sold it for five cents on the dollar. The wall was all fabricated. I built much more wall than I said I was going to build.”
— in a May radio interview

False. During Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, he promised to build a wall spanning at least 1,000 miles along the southern border and have Mexico pay for it. That did not happen. Overall, the Trump administration constructed 458 miles of border barriers — most of which reinforced or replaced existing structures. Officials put up new primary barriers where none previously existed along only 47 miles.

Contracts were awarded for a total of 631 miles of barriers through January 2021, according to a Government Accountability Office report. When Mr. Biden took office and halted all construction, the contracted projects were in various states of completion — not “all made” — as officials had run into difficulties with real estate availability, the report said. Some were expected to wrap up by September 2021 and others by September 2022.

It is true that the government has sold already procured border wall materials at a steep discount, but it is unlikely 200 miles’ worth. Moreover, it is not atypical for the government to take a loss on unwanted supplies.

When Mr. Biden ordered a pause on construction, the Pentagon had $262 million of already procured border wall material. For context, the Trump administration spent more than $6.6 billion and had earmarked $10.5 billion on the border wall, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The Army Corps of Engineers retained some materials for other construction projects, a spokeswoman said, and transferred $202 million worth to the Defense Logistics Agency, which handles acquisitions for the Pentagon. Since December, the logistics agency has transferred about $60 million worth of supplies to other federal and state agencies, and put up about $40 million up for sale, a spokesman said. It expects to make about 3.5 percent of the original acquisition value.

The agency, which first offers excess goods to federal and state agencies, also sells unwanted supplies, electronics and vehicles for a fraction of their original cost under the same agreement (Humvees at starting bids of $3,000, for example).

Mr. Trump’s assessment of border security under his administration as the “strongest” in history is a matter of opinion. Apprehensions in the 2020 fiscal year, even as the coronavirus pandemic ground global movement to a halt, were higher than in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Mr. Trump also faced a surge in migration at the border: In the 2019 fiscal year, apprehensions topped 800,000 and were the highest in a decade.

What Was Said

“And the numbers are probably 16 million, 17 million or 18 million people. You’re going to have over 20 million people, I think, I believe, and a lot of other people do, too, by the time he hopefully gets out.”
in an interview on Fox News in June

This is exaggerated. It is impossible to know the exact number of migrants that have entered the United States, but Mr. Trump’s estimates are hyperbolic.

Since February 2021, the first full month of Mr. Biden’s presidency, Customs and Border Protection has recorded 9.6 million migrant encounters nationwide. This does not necessarily mean that nearly 10 million migrants have attempted to enter the country, as one migrant can be “encountered” multiple times. Government and independent analyses have estimated that repeat offenders account for a quarter to more than half of all encounters.

Outside of official encounters, border officials estimated about 1.7 million migrants evaded capture and entered the United States since the 2021 fiscal year, according to government data obtained by Fox News through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Karoline Leavitt, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, argued that official numbers of evasions are vastly undercounted. But while officials have said that the actual number could be 20 percent higher, Mr. Trump’s estimates would require the number to be several times higher.

More than 4 million migrants have been turned away or deported under Mr. Biden. About 3 million were quickly expelled under a public health law, were placed into “expedited removal” proceedings or voluntarily left.

What Was Said

“Prison population all over the world is down, and nobody knows why except for us. We know why. Because the prisons are being emptied into the United States, and the mental institutions are being emptied into the United States of America, like we’re a dumping ground.”
in a May rally in Michigan

“He’s letting millions of people from jails, from prisons, from insane asylums, from mental institutions, drug dealers, pour in. Venezuela, if you look at their crime statistics, they’ve gone down 72 percent in crime because they’re releasing all their criminals into our country because of this horrible president that we have.”
— in remarks to reporters in May

This lacks evidence. Prison populations all over the world have been increasing, not decreasing. Penal Reform International, a Netherlands-based nonprofit, estimated that the global prison population was a record 11.5 million in 2023, an increase of 500,000 people since 2020.

Regarding Venezuela, Ms. Leavitt, the Trump campaign spokeswoman, cited a September 2022 article in Breitbart, a conservative website. One unnamed source told Breitbart that officials believed an unspecified number of Venezuelan prison inmates were headed for the United States’ southern border with Mexico. (No other news organization or government source has verified this report.)

Ms. Leavitt also pointed to reports warning that Tren de Aragua, a transnational criminal gang founded in Venezuela, was growing in the United States.

But none of this is evidence that “millions” of criminals are infiltrating the southern border.

Customs and Border Protection reported apprehending 47 members of Tren de Aragua along the southern border under Mr. Biden.

Ms. Leavitt pointed to a Bloomberg article in December 2023 about a Caracas-based research organization reporting the lowest homicide rate in 22 years. Annual reports from that organization, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, show a 25 percent decline in the country’s homicide rate from 2022 to 2023, and a 41 percent decline since 2020. In comparison, the homicide rate declined even more precipitously while Mr. Trump was president, by almost 50 percent from 2016.

The Venezuelan Prison Observatory told Univision in 2022, when Mr. Trump first made the claim, that the prisons in the country had not been emptied and rather were at 170 percent capacity. According to the group’s latest annual report, Venezuela’s prison population stood at 33,558 in 2022, about level with its 2021 population of 33,710.

What Was Said

“If the Biden invasion is not stopped, it will also demolish Medicare and Social Security. It cannot survive, but it cannot survive 20 million people coming into the country.”

“It was recently announced that crooked Joe is now giving Obamacare and all free government health care to illegal aliens.”
— in a May rally in New Jersey

False. Unauthorized immigrants actually improve the financial health of both Social Security and Medicare. And the Biden administration’s announcement in May that certain migrants could purchase — not receive for free — potentially subsidized health insurance applied only to those who were brought to the United States as children.

Federal law bars unauthorized immigrants from receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits, but they pay into both programs. In a 2013 report, the Social Security Administration estimated that 3.1 million unauthorized immigrants were working and paying Social Security taxes. They contributed about $12 billion to the trust in 2010 and about $100 billion over a decade. A 2016 study estimated that unauthorized immigrants contributed about $35.1 billion to Medicare from 2000 to 2011.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports curbs on immigration, noted that “illegal immigration unambiguously benefits the Social Security and Medicare trust funds,” but added that giving migrants legal status would reverse those gains. The Trump campaign argued that Democrats were pushing for just that.

Unauthorized immigrants are also generally barred from purchasing health insurance through the government exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act and receiving subsidies.

In May, a new federal regulation made eligible those enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Officials estimated that about 100,000 of these migrants, so-called Dreamers who were brought to the United States as children, could obtain health insurance as a result of the new rule.

Recent arrivals do not qualify for the program, which is open to those who were in the United States on June 15, 2012, and have resided there since at least 2007. Nor do unauthorized migrants qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the government health care programs for low-income people and children, though they can receive emergency Medicaid services.

The Trump campaign also pointed to a handful of states that have extended eligibility for government health care programs, including Medicaid, to unauthorized immigrants. But that coverage is state-funded.

What Was Said

“What he signed means nothing. In fact, it makes it easier. In my opinion, it opens the border still further.”
Mr. Trump at a rally in Las Vegas in June

This is misleading. Mr. Biden issued an executive order in June that prevented migrants from seeking asylum at the border.

Under the order, migrants cannot ask for asylum if the seven-day average for daily illegal crossings reaches 2,500. The order lifts once the number falls below 1,500 for seven days in a row. The restrictions do not apply to unaccompanied minors, victims of human trafficking, those facing medical emergencies or valid visa holders.

The Center for Immigration Studies criticized the asylum exceptions and other “loopholes” in the policy, but said it “will likely drive illegal entries down in the short run.”

Ms. Leavitt argued, misleadingly, that the policy “allowed” migrants to enter if the threshold was not met, and that it actually expanded asylum by routing them to ports of entry, referring to a smartphone app border officials have encouraged migrants to use. But even if crossings fell below 1,500, migrants would still be apprehended and processed, and face deportation.

What Was Said

“Folks, on my first day as president, I introduced a bill I sent to Congress: a comprehensive plan to fix the broken immigration system and to secure the border. But no action was taken.”
— Mr. Biden in a speech at the border in February

“The first bill I ever introduced as a president of the United States was essentially what got passed this time out, led by the conservative Republican who they’re vilifying now for having worked out this deal.”
— Mr. Biden in a visit to a campaign office in New Hampshire in March

This is exaggerated.

On Mr. Biden’s first day in office, the White House released its framework for the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021” and Democrats in the House and Senate officially introduced the legislation about a month later in February. It largely focused on creating a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and expanding legal immigration.

The bill did include border security measures like directing the Department of Homeland Security to create a plan to deploy new technologies at and between ports of entry and adding resources to legally process migrants. It did not include funding to hire more border patrol agents or changes to the asylum process.

In contrast, the bipartisan border deal that Congress rejected this spring — negotiated by Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma — focused on border security.

The legislation included funding for 1,500 additional Customs and Border Protection agents and a provision that would have automatically triggered an emergency authority to more easily expel migrants when crossings reach a certain threshold. While it expanded the number of immigration judges and asylum officers, and awarded more family- and employment-based visas, it also made it more difficult for migrants to claim asylum.

Angelo Hernandez, a White House spokesman, argued that both pieces of legislation had border security and immigration reform measures and that Mr. Biden “believes we must secure our border and fix our broken immigration system.”

But there is a major split between the two bills: Mr. Biden’s legislation includes a pathway to citizenship while the bipartisan bill has a provision to shut down the border.

Mr. Biden and Democrats have evolved on the issue of illegal crossings. The president has at times acknowledged the shift. For example, in announcing his new asylum policy in June, Mr. Biden said that while he was “still fighting” for comprehensive immigration reform, “we must first secure the border.”



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