Barack Obama’s speech on immigration last night may have been brief, but not brief enough to exclude misleading arguments. In a speech of less than 15 minutes, Obama managed to pack a few whoppers into his arguments for unilateral executive action, as the Associated Press noticed. They seem to have been nearly the only media outlet who did, but they dismantle four of Obama’s supporting arguments for his actions.
- “All we’re saying is that we’re not going to deport you” — No, that’s not all Obama said. Even if it were, the application of “prosecutorial discretion” to ignore an entire class of crime would still be problematic and unprecedented. However, Obama promised to issue work permits as part of this amnesty, allowing them to “compete with citizens and legal residents for better-paying jobs.”
- Claimed that the number of unaccompanied children apprehended in border crossings “is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years” as an argument that border security has improved — Actually, the opposite is true. “The number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border has been on the rise since the 2011 budget year,” the AP reports. In 2011, the number was 16,000, over 38,000 in FY2013, and by the end of FY2014, the number was over 68,000.
- “Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.” – I caught this one last night, too. The reason that border crossings are down is because the economy crashed and there aren’t nearly as many jobs to attract workers. In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s economic policies drove a 25-year expansion that came to an end in the crash of 2008, and the Obama economy produced stagnation in its place. When you recreate the stagnation of the 1970s, it has the same kinds of consequences. Arrests have risen as the economy picked up, as the AP points out, but the economy isn’t generating enough jobs to restart the big numbers of illegal crossings.
- “When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system.” — So why did it take until Obama’s second term for him to get serious about it? The AP fact-check notes that Obama promised in 2008 to move on immigration during his first year in office, when he had control of both chambers of Congress. “He never kept that promise to the Latino community,” they note. No kidding.
The Washington Post does confirm one statistic from Obama’s speech — that deportations have gone up during his presidency, especially in criminal-related deportations:
“Over the past six years,” Obama said, “deportations of criminals are up 80 percent.”
That appears to be accurate. Since Obama took office, there’s been a relatively modest increase in the number of people deported — “removed,” in the parlance of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS publishes statistics on an annual basis tracking numbers related to its work. And while apprehensions flattened out after a long-term drop, deportations have moved upward.
On another, arguable:
“Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history,” Obama said — a claim that we’ve evaluated before.
The link goes to a review of a similar but less-carefully made claim from July:
Customs and Border Patrol regularly releases data on its staffing levels. The most recent data spans the time frame from 1992 to 2013, before the current surge in border crossings that has become a focus of debate this past month. Overall, the number of “boots” on the border was down in 2013, compared to the high in 2011 — from 21,444 border patrol agents to 21,391. …
Customs and Border Patrol regularly releases data on its staffing levels. The most recent data spans the time frame from 1992 to 2013, before the current surge in border crossings that has become a focus of debate this past month. Overall, the number of “boots” on the border was down in 2013, compared to the high in 2011 — from 21,444 border patrol agents to 21,391. (Or, really, 42,782 boots, assuming that all of the agents have two feet and wear the appropriate footwear.) …
The year 2013 saw a new high in agents in the Southwest, reaching 17,590. (35,180 actual boots.)
Is this the all-time high, though? When President Obama made a similar claim in 2010, Politifact looked into it. As it turns out, when Pancho Villa raided New Mexico in 1917, the government sent at least 75,000 troops to the region’s defense. Many of whom, we would imagine, wore boots.
So far, there don’t seem to be too many other media fact-checks. CNN did feature one with Jay Carney, of all people, who admitted that the President’s claim to have full authority for this action contradicted what Obama had said earlier about the limits of that authority:
“Well, here’s what I say,” said Carney. “I think if he could have those words back, especially the first clip where he specifically talked about suspending deportations–that is literally what he is doing today. In later instances including when I was there he would speak carefully about what he could not do as president. He can’t change the law. He can’t provide a path to citizenship.”
So consider this a reverse fact check … albeit with a slight spin.