Fact Check: President Trump’s Speech on Border Security

January 9, 2019

Students discuss President Trump’s prime-time speech about border security on January 8, 2019, and examine whether the facts back up his statements.

Donald Trump
President Trump looks at border wall prototypes, March 2018. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

 


Opening
 

Ask students, “Did you see President Trump’s speech about immigration and a border wall?”

Follow up by asking, “What kinds of things do you remember him saying?” or, if students did not see the speech, ask, “What did you hear about the speech?” Make notes on the board of any topics or quotes that students mention.

Ask, “Why did he give the speech?” Elicit or explain the following:

President Trump made the nationally broadcast speech to argue that Congress should pass a federal budget that includes funding for a wall at the U.S.’s southern border. His insistence on funding for the wall has held up passage of the budget, leading to a partial government shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018.

Because of this shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are on unpaid leave or are working without pay, including workers at the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), national parks and museums, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, the IRS, and the National Weather Service.

You can see a video and transcript of Trump’s speech here: 
https://www.c-span.org/video/?456761-1/President-trump-calls-border-growing-humanitarian-security-crisis

Tell students that we’ll now have a chance to talk about some of the statements Trump made in his speech.

Next, choose one or more of the claims below for the class to discuss. For each topic, read the President’s claim aloud. Then ask students to discuss their perspective on the claim in pairs.

Then, read the fact-check aloud or ask students to read it aloud. Ask students to share their perspective on the President’s claim with the whole class. If necessary, also ask students to discuss the fact-check in pairs before sharing with the whole class.

 


 

1.  The Rate of Illegal Immigration
 

Claim: In the speech, President Trump stated that there has been a “sharp rise in unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy.”


Discuss in pairs:

  • Do you think this claim is accurate?
  • What do you think are President Trump’s goals in making this claim?
  • How do these claims relate to a border wall?


Fact Check:

  • What has increased in recent years is the number of people legally seeking asylum in the U.S. In 2008, less than 5,000 people applied for asylum. This involves completing an initial interview showing that they were in too much danger to return to their home country. By 2017, the number was nearly 80,000, most from Central America, where drug cartel violence has greatly increased over the last decade. Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, said in a May 2017 speech that cartels "are horrifically violent and they hold neighborhoods, cities in a grip of fear that includes police in many cases." Recently U.S. courts have also allowed new groups of people to qualify for asylum, especially victims of domestic and gang violence. Currently, people can apply for asylum at legal ports of entry or after being apprehended by Border Patrol. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/us/politics/migrants-border-trump-.html and https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2014/09/immigrants-seeking-asylum-courts-say-yes-for-domestic-violence-no-for-gang-violence.html)
     

Discuss as a Class:

  • Since asylum-seeking is legal, is President Trump right that there has been a rise in unlawful migration?
  • Is he right that increased immigration is fueled by America’s economy?
  • How would a border wall affect the number of people seeking asylum in the U.S.?
     

 

2.  Drugs and the Southern Border
 

Claim: In the speech, President Trump stated that “the southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” He also stated that “every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which flows across our southern border.”
 

Discuss in pairs:

  • Do you think these claims are accurate?
  • What do you think are President Trump’s goals in making these claims?
  • How do these claims relate to a border wall?


Fact check:

  • According to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), most heroin enters the U.S. in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers, crossing the southern border at legal border crossings and ports of entry. Most fentanyl comes into the U.S. through the mail from China.
  • According to the DEA, more Americans currently abuse controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin, and meth combined. About 16,000 Americans died from heroin overdoses in 2016, coming to about 306 deaths per week, but over 19,000 Americans died from prescription painkiller overdoses the same year, totaling 372 deaths per week.

Discuss as a class:

  • Is President Trump right that the southern border is a source of illegal drugs?
  • Would a border wall would prevent those illegal drugs from crossing the border?
  • If we could stop all illegal drugs from crossing the border, how would that affect the number of overdose deaths in the U.S.?

 

3.  Immigration and Crime
 

Claim: In the speech, President Trump stated that “over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who have illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”


Discuss in pairs:

  • Do you think this claim is accurate?
  • What do you think are President Trump’s goals in making this claim?
  • How does this claim relate to a border wall?
     

Fact check:

  • According to multiple studies, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in the U.S. than native-born Americans. This includes both violent and nonviolent crimes. Immigrants who entered illegally are about half as likely to commit crimes as native-born Americans, and immigrants who entered legally are even less likely.


Discuss as a class:

  • Is President Trump right that undocumented immigrants have killed Americans?
  • What is he implying about undocumented immigrants by telling these stories? 
  • How do you think stopping immigration entirely would affect the rate of crime or violence in the U.S.?

 

4.  Immigration and the Economy
 

Claim: In the speech, President Trump stated, “America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation, but all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”
 

Discuss in pairs:

  • Do you think this claim is accurate?
  • What do you think are President Trump’s goals in making this claim?
  • How does this claim relate to a border wall?
     

Fact check:

  • Immigration, whether legal or illegal, increases the cost of public education and other government programs in the short-term. One report from the National Academy of Sciences, which the President quoted in a speech last year, shows that immigration costs governments $57 billion annually for the first generation of immigrants.  
  • However, the children of immigrants contribute even more to the economy than native-born citizens do. Second-generation children of immigrants contribute $31 billion a year, and third-plus generations add $224 billion annually.

Discuss as a class:

  • Is President Trump right that illegal immigration harms America’s economy?
  • How would a border wall affect America’s economy?
  • What other solutions might there be to the problems of low wages?

 



Closing
 

  • Do you think President Trump is right to force a government shut down in order to get funding for a border wall?
  • Do you think Democrats are right to refuse to pay for the border wall, even though it has caused a government shutdown?
  • What do you think Congress and the President should do about this situation?
     
  • What is one thing you will take a way from our discussions today?