CALI, Colombia—President Donald Trump issued a flurry of bewildering statements over the last week concerning immigration and an alleged “point of crisis” along the U.S. border with Mexico. The upshot of all this is that POTUS wants soldiers to defend the southern frontier, at least until his ever-loving wall—which he also claimed is under construction—can be completed.
“We’re going to be doing things militarily,” Trump said on Tuesday. “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military.”
Trump’s decision to deploy thousands of troops to the border, which is already heavily patrolled by state and federal agents, drew a swift rebuke from the Mexican senate. In a unanimous vote, lawmakers urged an end to all bilateral security cooperation. There hasn’t been a cooperation breakdown like that between the U.S. and Mexico since the days of Pancho Villa, and such a move would be an unprecedented disaster for anti-cartel and drug interdiction efforts.
But what of the reasons cited for this mass mobilization across four southwestern states? Given the costs to taxpayers, the danger of angering one of our most important trading and security partners, and the sacrifices that will have to be made by both the troops and their families, one would expect a sitting U.S. president might only move to militarize our border due to some “clear and present danger” that required it.
Fortunately for the United States, and unfortunately for the sake of truth, that’s not the case.
Here then, in reverse order of magnitude, are Donald Trump’s Top Five Border Lies:
A day after vowing the border build-up, Trump signed off on a proclamation to enact it. Citing the aforementioned “point of crisis,” Trump wrote in a memo:
“The lawlessness that continues at our southern border is fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people,” and then stated he had “no choice but to act.”
What exactly constitutes this “crisis” remains a mystery, however.
Illegal immigration rates have been dropping steadily for more than a decade. And the rate of decline has further plummeted since Trump took office. Would-be migrants now fear harsh treatment and know that asylum is unlikely to be granted—conditions his supporters have boasted is the “Trump effect.” In fact, the five months between October of 2017 and February of 2018 saw arrests at the border drop by 27 percent since the year before.
And while there was an uptick in border apprehensions in March of this year, those numbers are still in keeping with the overall decline since the mid-2000s. A Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) report from fiscal year 2017 indicated immigration was at its lowest rate in half a century. At least two CPB detention centers in Texas were shuttered last year, due to a lack of detainees to put in them.
So how to explain Trump’s (manufactured) crisis point? Much has been made of Trump’s penchant for taking his political cues from Fox News. And as some pundits have observed, the president’s favorite media outlet did recently run a segment on a so-called migrant caravan of Central American refugees who were said to be crossing Mexico in order to seek asylum in the U.S.
The conservative broadcaster first reported the story last Sunday. Trump’s initial tweet about “caravans” (sic) headed for the border followed shortly thereafter. A few days later Trump referenced the “big Caravan of People” again, and used the topic to threaten Mexico over NAFTA and Honduras with cutting off foreign aid. He followed up that bit of diplomacy by claiming he had solved the problem himself after telling Mexican officials:
“‘I hope you’re going to tell that caravan not to get up to the border.’ And I think they're doing that, because, as of 12 minutes ago, it was all being broken up. We’ll see what happens.”
These statements are disingenuous on a number of fronts. For one thing, the caravan was never headed for the U.S. border, but was instead on its way to a “migrants rights symposium in central Mexico,” according to the Associated Press.
Furthermore, neither Mexican authorities nor Trump had anything to do with “breaking it up.” Instead the 1,150 demonstrators stopped of their own accord at a soccer pitch in the southern state of Oaxaca, to await further transportation by bus. The only thing local officials did was show up to hand out temporary transit visas for the asylum seekers.
In one of his first social media posts about the caravan kerfuffle, Trump also threw a jab at his political opponents in Washington, tweeting:
“Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release.”
And he followed that up with an even harsher, somewhat outlandish critique: “Democrats want No Borders, hence drugs and crime!”
Such overblown rhetoric is either the result of grave historical ignorance, or intended to disguise a political con game. The truth is that the “Catch and Release” policy—which allows unaccompanied children and non-Mexican immigrants charged with illegal entry to remain outside of detention centers while they await a court hearing—is a product of the (Republican) George W. Bush administration.
Democratic President Obama was actually something of a border hawk, contrary to President Trump’s insistent portrayal of his predecessor’s immigration policies “pathetic and weak.”
The CPB budget proposal reached $14 billion annually under Obama, growing by about 22 percent during his two terms. As per Obama’s orders, penalties for Mexican nationals crossing the border were stiffened, and criminal charges were more frequently brought against them. Obama also opposed a U.S. District Court ruling that expanded the scope of catch-and-release laws.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has gone after the Bush-era policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said the practice was dead as of last April, but he recanted during a Senate hearing in October of 2017, and his admission helps explain why the law has proven so difficult to overturn in practice:
Catch and release “is not the policy,” Sessions said. “It’s just the reality that there are so many people claiming and being entitled to hearings that we don’t have the ability to provide those hearings.”
As with his claims on “Catch & Release,” Trump also tried to pass the buck this week on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy.
First he tried to blame the Democrats for DACA’s failure, tweeting, in part:
“DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act...”
Such statements ignore the fact that Trump himself deliberately sabotaged bipartisan efforts to carve out a lasting solution for DACA recipients, or Dreamers. Trump opposed two separate Senate initiatives last year, including one sponsored by fellow Republican John McCain, who represents the border state of Arizona, because neither plan included funding for his “beautiful” wall.
“These big flows of [immigrants] are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!”
This claim is false on two counts. Because Trump himself rescinded DACA in 2017, new deferments are no longer being accepted, and only individuals who were previously enrolled can apply for renewal. So there is no “act” to get in on.
Sadly, the statement also betrays the president’s own misunderstanding of DACA, as the law clearly states that only children who had been living in the country continuously since the year 2007 were ever eligible.
So not only was it Trump who killed DACA, but, based on his recent statements, it would seem he did so without even understanding how it worked in the first place.
In referencing his brave new plan to station troops on the border, POTUS boasted: “We really haven't done that before, or certainly not very much before.”
Except that we have. Many times. For starters, there was the little matter of President Woodrow Wilson sending Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing’s expeditionary force to the border back in 1916, where the gringos were roundly humiliated by Pancho Villa’s guerrillas.
More recently both President Obama and President Bush deployed U.S. troops to the region, the latter as part of Operation Jump Start, in 2006. In that case, however, Bush made clear that the key issue was fighting cartels, not keeping out hapless and poverty-stricken migrants. And he also made sure to talk up our “friendly” relationship with Mexico at the time, instead of browbeating and race-baiting our neighbors to the south.
Even a member of Trump’s own inner circle has previously played this card. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who now serves as Trump’s energy secretary, sent about a 1,000 members of the National Guard to the Rio Grande Valley in 2014. So not only have we “done that before,” but some of the units Perry sent to the Texas frontier remain on duty there to this day.
The Constitution places certain restrictions on the use of soldiers and National Guard units on U.S. soil. That means individual governors have the final say. It looks like Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico will allow some of their units to be deployed. But at least one elected state leader has already declined to participate. Oregon’s Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said she was “deeply troubled” by Trump’s move, and hinted it was little more than a political distraction.
If asked “to deploy Oregon Guard troops to the Mexico border, I’ll say no,” Brown wrote.
Over the last few weeks, President Trump has said and written multiple times that the border wall is actually under way. Gone was the talk of Mexico paying for it, but in its place were pictures sent from Trump’s Twitter account of the wall seemingly going up.
Late last month he told supporters at a rally in Ohio that funding for “the wall” had been approved to the tune of $1.6 billion. And in a conference with Baltic leaders on April 3 he repeated the claim again, saying, “We’ve started building the wall.”
Only we haven’t. And won’t anytime soon.
A report by Politifact concludes that the $1.6 billion Congress approved for infrastructure along the border comes with a built-in clause that explicitly prohibits Trump’s vision of a “wall,” instead stipulating contractors can only erect see-through “pedestrian fencing” comprised of “steel bollard designs, that prioritize agent safety.”
The $1.6 billion is itself just a fraction of the $25 billion Trump had requested in order to construct a solid concrete span that ran for a 1,000 miles and stood 35 to 40 feet high. By contrast the 2018 funding Trump received is slated to repair existing, Vietnam-era fences along a 33-mile stretch of border. And even those modest retrofitting projects have yet to begin.
So what about those tweeted photos of the wall under construction?
Truth is those pictures were taken in Calexico, California, as part of a state-funded project that had been in the works since 2009. And the plan is not to build a wall at all, but instead to use the same mandated and approved, hollow-beamed bollard fencing to replace an unsafe scrap-metal barrier.
So it turns out those convincing construction-site images, and the president’s claims that they represent his wall in the making, are no truer than the rest of his recent claims on immigration and the border.