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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle is seen next to migrants after they were detained and taken into custody, March 21, 2021, in Abram-Perezville, Texas. (AP) A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle is seen next to migrants after they were detained and taken into custody, March 21, 2021, in Abram-Perezville, Texas. (AP)

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle is seen next to migrants after they were detained and taken into custody, March 21, 2021, in Abram-Perezville, Texas. (AP)

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe September 6, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • The U.S. doesn’t have an “open border” policy. Physical barriers, surveillance technology and U.S. Border Patrol agents work to secure the border. 
  • Most fentanyl being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico is coming in through official ports of entry, not carried in by people crossing the border illegally.

  • Flights transporting detained adult immigrants and unaccompanied children are not secret, and are a part of the federal government’s legal responsibilities.

As the November midterm elections near, political candidates and TV ads are pushing inaccurate and misleading claims about immigration. And according to an NPR/Ipsos poll, a significant number of Americans believe these falsehoods. 

About 1,000 adults in the U.S. were asked whether they believed a variety of claims about immigration, including whether there was an invasion at the southern border and whether most of the fentanyl entering the U.S. was smuggled in by migrants crossing the border illegally. Those assertions are not true.  

"The fact that the public believes them is, I think, mainly because that's the information they're being told over and over by political leaders," said Theresa Cardinal Brown, the managing director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

PolitiFact reviewed the claims believed to be true by survey respondents. Most defy the facts. 

 The southern border is not open

Some elected officials, conservative media outlets and social media users have repeatedly claimed that the southern border is open. According to the NPR poll, 42% of the Americans surveyed believe it is either completely or somewhat true that "the U.S. is implementing an open border policy along the southern border." 

But the border isn’t "open." 

"Open border insinuates that there is nobody guarding the border and nobody attempting to stop people from crossing the border, and that is not true," Brown said.

A combination of physical barriers such as fences, surveillance technology such as drones and about 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents help limit who and what comes into the United States.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, immigrants trying to cross the border illegally and encountered by Border Patrol are either immediately returned to their country of origin (or Mexico, their last place of transit) or allowed into the U.S. to file a case under immigration law.

Some people enter the country undetected — that’s happened under multiple administrations, including Biden’s and Trump’s. But that’s not because of "open border" policies; that would negate the work done by Border Patrol agents and the billions of dollars that have been invested over decades to track movements at the southwest border.

There is no invasion at the southern border 

Political ads ahead of the midterm election characterize illegal immigration at the southern border as an invasion. More than half of Americans surveyed by NPR/Ipsos believe it is completely or somewhat true that the "U.S. is experiencing an invasion at the southern border."

But many immigrants crossing the border illegally turn themselves into Border Patrol agents on purpose, to ask for asylum, Brown said. 

"That is not behavior that you would really attribute to an invader," Brown said. She said that usually, the term invasion is used to describe a concerted effort by a country to forcibly enter another country to take it over. 

This "invasion" narrative has been pushed by local government officials in Texas. Multiple counties have adopted local disaster declarations calling the number of immigrants crossing the border an invasion. 

Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, who is running for re-election this year is being encouraged by local Republican officials to declare an invasion in the state. Proponents say this would let the state divert state resources toward expelling migrants. 

Arizona’s Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake, has promised to declare an invasion if elected. 

Most fentanyl entering the U.S is not being smuggled by immigrants illegally crossing the border

Overdose deaths, particularly from fentanyl, have been rising in the U.S. since 2013. Mexico is the primary source of illegally sourced fentanyl in the country, per a report from the RAND Corp., a global policy think tank. 

About 50% of Americans believe it is somewhat or completely true that "migrants bringing fentanyl and other illegal drugs over the southern border are responsible for the increase in drug overdoses and deaths in the U.S." And 39% believe it is true that "most of the fentanyl entering the U.S. is smuggled in by unauthorized migrants crossing the border illegally."

But the majority of fentanyl and other illegal drugs coming from Mexico are smuggled through official ports of entry in large trucks or cars, according to the Congressional Research Service, which does public policy research and analysis for Congress.

At ports of entry, Customs and Border Protection officials inspect vehicles to determine whether the people, vehicles and what they are carrying are able to legally enter the U.S. 

So far in fiscal year 2022, which started in October 2021, border officials have seized more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl; about 9,000 pounds were seized at ports of entry. 

Border Patrol agents have checkpoints within the U.S. at major highways, Brown said. 

"Most of Border Patrol seizures of fentanyl are at those places," she said. "Not actually in possession of undocumented immigrants they encountered at the border itself."

A customs official talks with a driver at the San Ysidro port of entry, Dec. 7, 2021, in San Diego, California. (AP)
Immigrants are not more likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S.

About a quarter of Americans surveyed incorrectly believe it is "true" that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes or be in prison than people born in the U.S., according to the NPR/Ipsos poll. But studies counter that argument.

"U.S.-born citizens are over 2 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes," according to a 2020 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The number of criminal-related charges listed as the basis for the deportation of immigrants has also decreased over the past decade. In 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement listed around 57,000 criminal-related grounds for deportation. That number decreased to less than 9,000 in 2021, data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University shows.

Immigrants in the U.S. illegally are ineligible for most federal benefits 

Around 38% of NPR’s survey respondents said it’s "true" that "immigrants are more likely to use public assistance benefits than the U.S.-born population."

But immigrants in the U.S. illegally are ineligible for most federal benefits, including Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Medicaid for nonemergency situations. 

Immigrants might be eligible for certain health care and nutrition programs, if those benefits are deemed necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations. Some states, such as New York and California, allow immigrants in the U.S. illegally to receive some state-funded benefits. 

Overall, research shows immigrants don’t use public benefits more than people born in the U.S. 

"In general, most of the public benefits given out in the United States are given to Americans," Brown said.

The government is not secretly flying immigrants around the country

Some Republican elected officials have claimed that the U.S. government is secretly flying immigrants illegally in the country from one state to another. According to NPR, 35% of Americans believe this is either completely or somewhat true. 

On some occasions, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement flies adult immigrants from one detention center to another using ICE Air Operations.

Under federal law, unaccompanied children cannot be held by border officials for longer than 72 hours. So Customs and Border Protection transfers the children to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. That agency then transports the children to their parents, adult relatives or licensed shelters. This often requires flying the children across the country.

But these flights happen at all times of the day, and Health and Human Services provides limited details on the flights to protect the children’s privacy, The Washington Post reported. ​

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Our Sources

NPR, A majority of Americans see an 'invasion' at the southern border, NPR poll finds, Aug. 18, 2022

Phone interview, Theresa Cardinal Brown the managing director, Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Aug. 22, 2022

PolitiFact, JD Vance’s ad about ‘open border’ and immigrant voters is wrong, April 8, 2022

PolitiFact, US southern border 'completely open'? That’s False, Dec. 2, 2021

PolitiFact, Facebook post makes false claim about a lockdown, open borders, April 15, 2021

PolitiFact, Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton wants to have open borders, Oct. 19, 2016

PolitiFact, Fact-checking Greg Abbott’s claims that Biden has ‘open border’ policies, April 26, 2022

PolitiFact, Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro wrongly claims U.S. border is ‘open to anyone from anywhere’, March 23, 2021

DHS, Multi-Layered Defense, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

DHS, Border Patrol Agent Nationwide Staffing by Fiscal Year, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

Bipartisan Policy Center, What Happens at the Border After Title 42?, May 26, 2022

ICE, Alternatives to Detention, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

TRAC, Over 180,000 Immigrants Now Monitored by ICE's Alternatives to Detention Program, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

PolitiFact, Libertarian candidate says Mexican immigrants more law-abiding than U.S. citizens, July 14, 2016

U.S. Department of Justice, Comparing Crime Rates Between Undocumented Immigrants, Legal Immigrants, and Native-born US Citizens in Texas, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

TRAC, Fewer Immigrants Face Deportation Based on Criminal-Related Charges in Immigration Court, July 28, 2022

Kari Lake for Governor, Arizona Is Our Home & Must Be Protected!, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

Congressional Leadership Fund, Ad, Aug. 17, 2022

Republican Party of Texas, Ad, Aug. 8, 2022

The Texas Tribune, Gov. Greg Abbott empowers state authorities to return migrants to border crossings, July 7, 2022

The Hill, Why Texas cannot declare an ‘invasion’ at the border, May 4, 2022

PolitiFact, What is the ‘great replacement theory’ linked to the Buffalo shooter?, May 16, 2022

Pew Research Center, Key findings about U.S. immigrants, Aug. 20, 2020

Migration Policy Institute, Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States, Feb. 11, 2021

National Institute on Drug Abuse, Overdose Death Rates, accessed Aug. 24, 2022

RAND Corp., Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking: Final Report, February 2022

Charlie Kirk, LIVE NOW: UNITE AND WIN RALLY in Youngstown Ohio — Powered By Turning Point ACTION, Aug. 19, 2022

Congressional Research Service, Illicit Drug Smuggling Between Ports of Entry and Border Barriers, Feb. 7, 2020

CBP, Crossing the border via foot, vehicle, or air without visiting an official port of entry, Sep. 27, 2019

CBP, Drug Seizure Statistics, accessed Aug. 14, 2022

CBP, Southwest Land Border Encounters, accessed Aug. 14, 2022

NCSL, Federal Benefit Eligibility for Unauthorized Immigrants, Feb. 24, 2014

National Immigration Forum, Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits, Aug. 21, 2018

PolitiFact, Fact-checking claim about immigrants, eligibility for assistance programs, Jan. 31, 2022

CATO Institute, Immigration and the welfare state: Immigrant and native use rates and benefit levels for means-tested welfare and entitlement programs, May 10, 2018

Bipartisan Policy Institute, Immigrants and public benefits: What does the research say?, November 2018

PolitiFact, Claims that Biden is ‘secretly’ flying immigrants into U.S. cities ignore key facts, March 16, 2022

The Washington Post, Claims of ‘ghost flights’ of ‘illegal immigrants’ don’t add up, Feb 4, 2022

ICE, ICE Air Operations Fact Sheet, May 6, 2022

The New York Times, ‘Ghost flights’? The facts behind transporting migrant children, June 24, 2022

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