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In the face of the longest government shutdown in American history, President Donald Trump has repeatedly maintained that the border situation is a crisis only a wall can solve.
"The debate on securing our border can't be measured in partisan jabs," said Walker, who represents North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District. "It has to be measured in the human toll caused by porous borders:
* 1/3 migrant women are sexually assaulted
* 7/10 migrants are victims of violence
* 20k migrant children were illegally smuggled last month."
The debate on securing our border can't be measured in partisan jabs. It has to be measured in the human toll caused by porous borders:— Rep. Mark Walker (@RepMarkWalker) January 9, 2019
• 1/3 migrant women are sexually assaulted
• 7/10 migrants are victims of violence
• 20k migrant children were illegally smuggled last month
Walker spokesman Jack Minor said the first two statistics came from Doctors Without Borders, an international nonprofit providing medical care in places marked by conflict and poverty. He said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen presented the third figure to House members during a briefing Jan. 8.
Similar numbers have been raising eyebrows across the country for weeks, so we decided to put Walker’s statement to the Truth-O-Meter.
Walker pulled these numbers from a 2017 Doctors Without Borders report detailing the conditions faced by migrants fleeing violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle, which includes El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, for the United States. But that report focused on a very different situation than what Walker’s tweet described.
Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, said the report was meant to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Central America and the resulting forced displacement — not the situation inside the United States or at the U.S. border with Mexico.
The report was based on medical data and a 2015 survey of 467 randomly sampled migrants who were receiving treatment at clinics in Mexico supported by Doctors Without Borders.
According to the survey’s findings, 68.3 percent of the migrants and refugees entering Mexico from the Northern Triangle said they had experienced violence during their transit through Mexico to the United States, and 31.4 percent of women said they had been sexually abused.
Walker implied these numbers were "the human toll caused by porous borders" – that they were somehow the result of current immigration policies and could be fixed by a border wall. But they don’t actually refer to the situation at the U.S. border at all.
In reality, the numbers chart the harms suffered by migrants on the journey through Mexico.
"Central American migrants are extremely vulnerable to violence, both in their home countries and along the route to the United States," Delaunay said. "It is unfortunate that our data — that illustrated the dangers migrants face as they journey to the U.S. — are being used by the U.S. government to try to justify immigration policies that put the lives of these very same people at risk."
It’s clear that Walker didn’t pull the numbers out of thin air, but his claim is misleading.
Minor said this figure came from DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who presented it to House members during a briefing in January, referring to December data.
DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman told PolitiFact 19,313 minors tried to cross the border illegally in December, either with a parent or alone. Including others who arrived at legal ports of entry, a total of 22,110 minors showed up at the border without documents that month, she said.
But it’s not accurate to describe either figure as the number of children being "smuggled" into the country, which Trump’s supporters often link to drug cartels, "coyotes" or other bad actors.
While there were about 20,000 minors stopped while trying to enter the United States illegally, the number of children smuggled to the border probably was much smaller. That’s because border officials screen for false claims of parentage or guardianship.
Between April and September 2018, Customs and Border Patrol separated 170 family units on suspicion of smuggling after determining that the child was not related to the parent or guardian, according to The Washington Post.
But as FactCheck.org noted, 170 is a tiny percent of the more than 60,000 family units that were apprehended during that time frame. So it’s far-fetched to suggest, as Walker did, that just about every minor caught at the border was brought there by a smuggler.
In a Jan. 9 tweet, Walker said "porous borders" had resulted in one-third of migrant women experiencing sexual assault, 70 percent of migrants experiencing violence, and the illegal smuggling of 20,000 migrant children across the border in December.
Although Walker got the first two numbers straight from a Doctors Without Borders report, his suggestion that the violence occurred because of existing border conditions was highly misleading. The statistics came from a survey that asked Central American migrants receiving medical treatment in Mexico about their experience traveling through Mexico. Also, the head of the group behind the report said violence in their home countries was a factor in why they left.
The third statistic Walker cited was also misleading, since he conflated the 19,313 minors apprehended at the border last month with the much smaller number of minors who would have been caught traveling with smugglers.
Overall, Walker’s claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this statement Mostly False.
Rep. Mark Walker on Twitter, Jan 9, 2019
Doctors Without Borders, "Mexico," accessed Jan. 15, 2018
Doctors Without Borders, "Forced to Flee Central America’s Northern Triangle: A Neglected Humanitarian Crisis," June 14, 2017
Whitehouse.gov, "President Donald J. Trump Calls on Congress to Secure our Borders and Protect the American People," Jan. 8, 2019
Amnesty International, "Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico," April 2010
The Washington Post, "For Central Americans, children open a path to the U.S. — and bring a discount," Nov. 23, 2018
The Washington Post, "Fact-checking President Trump’s Oval Office address on immigration," Jan. 9, 2019
FactCheck.org, "FactChecking Trump’s Immigration Address," Jan. 9, 2019
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, "Southwest Border Migration FY2018," Nov. 9, 2018
Email correspondence with Katie Waldman, assistant press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Jan. 15, 2019
Email correspondence with Sophie Delaunay, interim executive director of Doctors Without Borders USA, Jan. 16, 2019
Email correspondence with David Shirk, professor of political science and international relations at the University of San Diego and director of the Justice in Mexico project, Jan. 17, 2019
Email correspondence with Jack Minor, communications director for Mark Walker, Jan. 9, 2019
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