Fact-checking Obama and others on border claims

President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One before departing for El Paso.
President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One before departing for El Paso.

President Barack Obama ditched Washington’s beltway for the Texas-Mexico border on May 10, delivering a speech on the "broken immigration system" in El Paso before starring at political fundraisers in Austin.

Obama made several testable statements in El Paso and at one of the Austin political fundraisers he attended. So far, PolitiFact has checked two, including the claim that "the Border Patrol has 20,000 agents — more than twice as many as there were in 2004." We rated that one True. Obama drew another True for his claim that the deportation of criminals increased 70 percent under his administration.

Obama also repeated a claim that PolitiFact has previously checked, saying the U.S. has more border patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border than any time in history. We rated that Mostly True; when Pancho Villa launched a surprise attack crossing the U.S. border in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson sent between 75,000 and 150,000 troops in response. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approximately 21,000 border agents were charged with monitoring the country’s borders when PolitiFact checked in July.

As Obama headed to Texas, we checked a comment by U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, who compared cities in House Speaker John 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."
That’s Mostly True. In 2009, the six largest Ohio cities had higher overall crime rates and rates of murder, rape, robbery and burglary than six major border cities. Yet a border city had a higher rate of aggravated assaults than four Ohio cities, and one Ohio city had a lower rate in the category than every checked border city except Laredo and Brownsville. Also, all but one of the Ohio cities had lower rates of motor vehicle theft than Laredo.

These claims are the latest in a series of border-related statements we’ve checked — including some by Texas politicians blasting the Democratic president.
Unsurprisingly, GOP Gov. Rick Perry has been among the critics.
In March, Perry said that neither Obama nor Mexico President Felipe Calderon had been to the U.S.-Mexico border to see what’s happening to Texas and Mexican citizens. We rated that Half True: At least three times in 2010, Calderon visited Ciudad Juarez, the city adjoining El Paso that is central to Mexico’s gang violence. As for Obama, Perry was more on point. As a senator, Obama made a trip to Brownsville in 2008, but we found no evidence that he made a presidential trip to address immigration or border security.
Perry, who has often expressed concern about the spillover violence from Mexico into Texas said in July that the violence in Mexico is spreading to the point that "you’ve got bullets hitting city hall in El Paso" and "bombs exploding in El Paso." We rated that Half True: Bullets did spray across the border and hit the city hall, but no bombs went off in El Paso.
In January, Attorney General Greg Abbott said that bullets had crossed the border four times. We rated that True, the most recent incident then having occurred that month, when a gunman fired a high-powered rifle across the border. But Abbott earned a False rating in 2010 for claiming that more people had been killed because of the drug war in Juarez than had been killed in the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Counting the number of people killed between 2008, when drug violence surged in Mexico, and this past summer, that was correct. However, the Afghanistan war started in 2001, and far as we could tell, far more people have since died in the conflict than in the drug war in Juarez.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, racked a Falserating when he said in December that 28,000 people have been killed along in the U.S.-Mexico border in the last five years. Those deaths took place in Mexico alone, and not just along the border.
The month before, we similarly dinged Perry for failing to specify that the five Texas citizens he claimed were killed on the border were killed in Mexico — not the United States. He was actually one short in recounting the six Americans from El Paso who had been killed Juarez, and we rated his statement Half True.
In May, Smith said Mexican government officials were handing out "brochures showing individuals how they can avoid our Border Patrol, how they can get into the country." That was Barely True: the brochure in question shows people how to enter the country safely, but it doesn’t advise migrants to flee from law enforcement officials. Significantly too, Mexico’s government has not issued such a leaflet since 2006.
During a March hearing, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that during the first 19 months of the Obama administration, the U.S. detained people from nations designated as state sponsors of terrorism on the southwestern border. We rated that Half True, finding that 87 percent of such apprehensions didn’t take place on the Mexican border.
A couple months later, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lamented understaffing on the border. "You’ve got almost twice as many cops in New York as you do on the entire border," he said. "That’s nuts." We rated that Half True; Dewhurst correctly characterized the relative sizes of the the two law enforcement agencies, but we found that it’s not reasonable to compare cops working the nation’s biggest city to officers monitoring an international border. The New York Police Department fights all kinds of crimes in a dense urban area with more than 8 million residents and numerous visitors, experts told us, while the Border Patrol, with narrower responsibilities, covers vast spaces, much of which is sparsely populated.
The last time Obama descended on Austin, for a fundraiser in August, state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson listed promises he said Obama had failed to keep. Among them was the president’s pledge to introduce an immigration reform bill during the first year of his presidency. That was True.

PolitiFact National rated that Obama campaign promise as Broken on the Obameter, though the meter has moved on other immigration-related promises lately. And PolitiFact has created its own collection of border fact-checks that sometimes go over the line.



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