With fact checks: Trump, Democrats make their cases in border wall debate
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump made a televised plea for border wall funding Tuesday night, seeking an edge in the shutdown battle with congressional Democrats as he declared there is "a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul."
Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for funding on security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid an extended partial government shutdown.
Trump called on Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him, saying it was "immoral" for "politicians to do nothing."
Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But critics say the security risks are overblown and his administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to circumvent Congress and move forward with the wall. But he made no mention of such a declaration Tuesday night.
In a televised rebuttal address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president has "chosen fear" in making the case to the American people for the border wall and Democrats "want to start with the facts."
Pelosi said "we all agree that we need to secure our borders."
She noted that the House passed legislation to reopen government on the first day of the new Congress. But Trump rejects that legislation because it doesn't have funding for his border wall.
She said: "The fact is: President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government."
Democrats have vowed to block funding for a wall, which they say would be immoral and ineffective, and have called on Trump to reopen shuttered portions of the government while border negotiations continue.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, joining Pelosi, said Trump should reopen government while talks continue over the U.S.-Mexico border wall because there's "no excuse for hurting millions of Americans."
Schumer said Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to secure borders. But the New York Democrat said the "symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall."
Schumer noted that Trump had promised to have Mexico pay for the wall. But he said having failed, Trump is now "unable to convince Congress or the American people to foot the bill."
Schumer said: "American democracy doesn't work that way. We don't govern by temper tantrum."
Checking the facts
Trump wrongly accused Democrats of refusing to pay for border security and ignored the reality of how illicit drugs come into the country as he pitched his wall as a solution to trafficking.
A look at his Oval Office remarks Tuesday night:
TRUMP: "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."
THE FACTS: A wall can't do much about that when drug trafficking is concentrated at land ports of entry, not remote stretches of the border.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says "only a small percentage" of heroin seized by U.S. authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. The same is true of drugs generally.
In a November report, the agency said the most common trafficking technique by transnational criminal organizations is to hide drugs in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers as they drive into the U.S. though entry ports, where they are stopped and subject to inspection. They also employ buses, cargo trains and tunnels, the report says, citing other smuggling methods that also would not be choked off by a border wall.
Trump recently denied that traffickers use entry ports at the southern border, contradicting the evidence and assertions of his drug enforcement personnel.
TRUMP: "Democrats will not fund border security."
THE FACTS: That's not true. They just won't fund it the way he wants. They have refused his demand for $5.7 billion to build part of a steel wall across the U.S.-Mexico border
Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the U.S. southern border.
Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.
Democrats have also supported broader fence-building as part of deals that also had a path to legal status for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
In 2013, Senate Democrats voted for a failed immigration bill that provided roughly $46 billion for a number of border security measures -- including new fencing -- but that legislation would have created a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
The 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act had money to double the number of miles of fencing, to 700 miles (1,126 km), as well as for more border patrol agents. It also had a mandatory employment verification system to ensure all U.S. employees are authorized to work in the country. In exchange, however, the bill allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to apply for a provisional legal status if they paid a $500 fine and had no felony convictions.
As well many Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which has resulted in the construction of about 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) of border barrier. But that legislation didn't authorize the kind of wall Trump has long been advocating since he launched his campaign.
ABC 7 Chicago's "I-Team," led by Chuck Goudie, fact-checked Trump's speech as it happened:
Trump's opening claim: "My fellow Americans, tonight I'm speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. Every day, customs and border patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country."
I-Team: The numbers are clear and provide little justification of this. The lowest number of southern border apprehensions in the past two decades came in 2017 - 303,916 - under President Trump.
While apprehensions are down in great numbers along historic trends, they have increased during the president's most recent years in office. 2018 saw roughly 92,000 more apprehensions at the southern border than 2017. In other words, they went up under his watch after a brief dip. Overall, the numbers have been under a million since 2007, and have been hovering under 500,000 since 2010.
Trump: "Every day thousands of illegal immigrants attempt to enter the country at southern border."
I-Team: In 2001 there were 1.6 million illegal crossings. Last year the number was 361,000. A huge decline.
Trump: "Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Three hundred citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border."
I-Team: This is true. According to the DEA 2018 Drug Threat Assessment, the southwest border is where large amounts of drugs enter the U.S. But, it's important to note those drugs largely come through legal points of entry. A border wall won't fix that.
See more of ABC 7's fact-check of Trump's speech.