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Separating Fact From Fiction In Trump, Biden Immigration Claims

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


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


Some of 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. Biden has occasionally overstated his earlier proposals on border security.



  • Trump said, "I built much more wall than I said I was going to build.” In 2016, 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.


  • 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. 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.


  • Trump counted migrants during the Biden administration as "over 20 million." It is impossible to know the exact number of migrants who have entered the U.S., but Trump’s estimates are hyperbolic. Since February 2021, the first month of Biden’s presidency, Customs and Border Protection has recorded 9.6 million migrant encounters nationwide. 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.


  • Trump says prisons and mental institutions worldwide are being emptied into the U.S. 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. There is no evidence that “millions” of criminals are infiltrating the southern border. The Venezuelan Prison Observatory said in 2022, when 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.


  • Trump says Biden's new executive order on immigration "means nothing." Actually, the order prevents 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.”

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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