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Fact-Checkers Work To Tear Down Trump’s Big Wall Speech, But There Are Some Big Problems

The Washington Post isn’t trying very hard to hide its partisan bias in its fact-check on President Trump’s Oval Office address on border security and illegal immigration. Rather than an even-handed assessment of what was factual or not in the address — which a true fact-check would of course attempt to provide — the Post’s Salvador Rizzo focused his energy on trying to find things that were “misleading,” as he makes clear in his opening line.

“The first misleading statement in President Trump’s Oval Office address Tuesday night came in the first sentence,” Rizzo begins. But Rizzo’s “fact-check” has some “misleading” aspects itself. Let’s look at a few.

First, Rizzo questions that what we’re experiencing is truly a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” as Trump stated. Rizzo tries to debunk the claim by arguing that “the number of people caught trying to cross illegally is near 20-year lows.”

But, of course, lower numbers of people getting caught than in some recent years doesn’t mean we’re not still facing an illegal immigration crisis. The massive humanitarian crisis of a few summers ago saw a staggering influx of unaccompanied minors; that we are no longer at that level, or the high reached in 2000, doesn’t mean the immigration rates are not at crisis level.

As Rizzo admits later, we still experienced “just under 400,000” apprehensions at the border in 2018, “just over 300,000” in 2017 and over 400,000 in 2016. Sure, that’s not as nightmarish as the 1.6 million in 2000, but that still sounds like a “crisis” to any rational person. And the 2018 number indeed “grew” over the 2017 number, as Trump’s claim suggests. Additionally, as Rizzo admits, even his own outlet has recently described the current situation as a “humanitarian crisis” (formatting adjusted):

While overall numbers of migrants crossing illegally are down, since 2014 more families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have begun to trek to the United States in search of safer conditions or economic opportunities, creating a humanitarian crisis. “Record numbers of migrant families are streaming into the United States, overwhelming border agents and leaving holding cells dangerously overcrowded with children, many of whom are falling sick,” The Washington Post reported Jan. 5.

So how again is Trump being “misleading” by saying we’re experiencing a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border”? In order to debunk that claim, WaPo must debunk its own claims.

Rizzo then takes issue with Trump saying border agents “encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country” every day. The daily average for 2018, Rizzo asserts, should be said to be “in the hundreds.” But then he demonstrates just how nitpicky he’s being:

Southern border apprehensions in fiscal 2018 averaged 30,000 a month (or 1,000 a day). They ticked up in the first two months of fiscal 2019, but it’s a stretch to say “thousands” a day. Better to say “hundreds.”

One could argue to say “hundreds” would actually be more misleading. What would be best would be to say “over a thousand.” Again, if this is what WaPo defines as egregiously “misleading,” then I’m not sure the broader public is going to find much use in their fact-checks.

The next big “misleading” statement: That 90 percent of the heroin in the U.S. comes across the border with Mexico. Rizzo again tries to take issue with how someone might interpret that, stating it ignores “the fact that most of the drugs come through legal entry points and wouldn’t be stopped by the border wall that he is demanding as the centerpiece of his showdown with Democrats.”

But wouldn’t a border wall help at least reduce some of the heroin entering the country? Of course it would.

Rizzo also “fact-checks” something that Trump didn’t even say:

One false claim noticeably absent from the speech was the assertion made by the president and many of his allies in recent days that terrorists are infiltrating the country by way of the southern border. Fact-checkers and TV anchors, including those on Fox News, spent days challenging the truthfulness of the claim.

Thus, the WaPo’s “fact-check” of the speech includes a claim he didn’t make in the speech.

As The Daily Wire highlighted earlier, Rizzo also took issue with Trump’s presentation of the devastating arrest and conviction numbers for illegal immigrants. “In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings,” said Trump. “Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”

Rizzo counters this by pointing out that some of the arrests are for immigration-related charges. He cites the staggering assaults, sex crimes, and violent killings stats, but doesn’t bother fact-checking those for some reason. Here’s the complete entry:

Notice how Trump switches quickly from the 266,000 arrests over two years to charges and convictions: “100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings.” In many cases, the people arrested face multiple counts, so that switch gives a confusing picture.

In fiscal 2018, ICE conducted 158,581 administrative arrests for civil immigration violations. The agency’s year-end report says two-thirds (105,140) of those involved people with criminal convictions and one-fifth (32,977) involved people with pending criminal charges. Of the 143,470 administrative arrests in 2017, 74 percent involved people with criminal records and 15.5 percent involved people who had pending charges. But these totals cover all types of offenses — including illegal entry or reentry.

In the fiscal 2018 breakdown, 16 percent of all the charges and convictions were immigration and related offenses.

In other words, a vast majority of the charges and convictions in 2018 were for crimes other than immigration-related offenses. Again, that doesn’t sound like Trump’s being very “misleading” there.

WaPo goes on to fact-check more claims, but the pattern largely continues: the fact-checkers tie themselves in knots trying to tear down his “misleading” claims while downplaying or outright ignoring claims that are accurate.

Related: Schumer Says A Wall ‘Ineffective,’ ‘Unnecessary.’ Here’s What He Said In 2009.

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