On the border -- and sometimes over the line
President Barack Obama traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border today to talk about border security, a message widely viewed as important for his push for re-election. In addition to continuing his outreach to Hispanic voters and advocacy of overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, Obama has ordered his administration to focus on border security and enforcement.
We'll be fact-checking what he has to say in El Paso, Texas, but this is hardly a new subject for Obama. Border security was a major issue in the 2010 campaign, producing quite a few claims about the risks Americans face from from immigrants making their way illegally into the United States.
We published a new fact check today -- of a comment by Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas. He teed off on House Speaker John Boehner by comparing cities in Boehner’s home state of Ohio to communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Boehner, Reyes said in a press release, "should focus on controlling the level of violence in his own state before tarnishing the image of border communities that remain among the safest places to live in America. ... The fact remains that the six largest cities in Ohio all have higher rates of violence and crime than every major city along the U.S.-Mexico border."
We found that the six largest Ohio cities had higher overall crime rates and rates of murder, rape, robbery and burglary than the six major border cities. Yet a border city had a higher rate of aggravated assaults than the Ohio cities and every border city had higher rates in the category than Columbus. Also, all but one of the Ohio cities had lower rates of motor vehicle theft than Laredo. We rated the statement Mostly True.
We also published an item checking Obama’s claim in El Paso that "the Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004." We ruled that one True.
Meanwhile, PolitiFact Texas today put together a recap of some of our coverage of these issues. Here are some of the other fact-checks we’ve done previously:
• Obama offered a defense of his administration’s immigration policies in response to a question from a Georgia news anchor about a controversial bill passed by Georgia lawmakers to catch illegal immigrants. "We have now more Border Patrol officers … than we’ve had at any time in our history," Obama said.
Federal statistics show the number of agents patrolling America’s borders has increased to its highest level in the last two decades. Since there has been at least one period in American history in which there were many more authorities patrolling the border, we rated the president’s claim Mostly True.
• Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host, said that "the overall fact about illegal immigration is that it's not actually getting worse." She proceeded to show a graph of apprehension rates of illegal immigrants from 1978 to 2008 that showed that the rate in 2008 was the lowest in years.
We found that by two key measurements, the numbers of illegal immigrants crossing the border are not increasing. At least for the time being, the numbers in both counts were going down. But when the economy picks up again, it is possible that illegal immigration will once again increase. Nevertheless, looking at the numbers, we rated Maddow's statement True.
• Jorge Ramos -- a prominent news anchor for Univision, the Spanish-language television network -- said that "President Barack Obama has deported more people in his first year in office than George W. Bush in his last year in office."
The Department of Homeland Security provided us with deportation statistics updated through June 7, 2010, though not all the numbers have been officially released yet. In fiscal year 2008 (which ran from Oct. 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2008), there were 369,221 deportations. During fiscal year 2009 (which ran from Oct. 1, 2008, through Sept. 30, 2009) there were 387,790 deportations. We noted a few caveats, including that it’s not clear that Obama deserves credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) for any increase in deportations. On balance, we rated it Mostly True.
• Several politicians, including Ohio state Rep. Courtney Combs, a Republican who sought to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Ohio, described Phoenix as the "No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world" to underscore how dangerous the state has become.
We took up this question on multiple occasions, concluding that while Phoenix has experienced hundreds of kidnappings over the past few years, reliable around-the-planet evidence to confirm the city as No. 2 in the world simply didn’t exist. In fact, experts advised us that such rankings can't be made based on available information. If they could, they speculate, other cities would prove to have more kidnappings than Arizona's capital. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.
• Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, linked illegal immigrants and drug-smuggling. "Well, we all know that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules," Brewer said. "They're coming across our borders in huge numbers. The drug cartels have taken control of the immigration. … So they are criminals. They're breaking the law when they are trespassing and they're criminals when they pack the marijuana and the drugs on their backs."
We found that sometimes, illegal immigrants have been coerced into serving as drug couriers. But federal prosecution statistics and experts undercut her assertion that "the majority of people that are coming into Arizona" were drug smugglers. We rated her claim False.
• Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said before the Republican House takeover in 2010 that "this administration and this Congress have been systematically cutting funding to border security since the Democrats took control."
We found that funding for border fencing is down, but funding for border security was up. In fact, discretionary spending on border security was up 55 percent between 2007 and 2011, even accounting for a small proposed cut in 2011. We rated Pence's claim False.
• Obama Administration Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in mid 2010 that "if you step back and look at it, the numbers actually are down in terms of apprehensions, which indicates fewer illegal crossings, but also up in terms of actual enforcement actions."
We concluded that apprehensions were down, which indicates fewer illegal border crossings, and that removals were also up. But we questioned whether removals are the same thing as "actual enforcement actions." We found the picture nuanced, so we rated Napolitano's statement Mostly True.