Immigration: the year in fact-checking
In 2013, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned that if the House didn’t follow the Senate’s lead in taking up an immigration bill, President Barack Obama would take action alone.
And that’s what exactly what Obama did.
About two weeks after the GOP chalked up big wins in the 2014 midterm elections, Obama announced an executive action that would delay deportations of unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than five years but have children who have green cards or citizenship. As long as applicants can pass a background check and pay a fee, theu can qualify for a work permit and avoid deportation for three years, and longer if they secure a renewal. The administration estimates that more than 4 million people could qualify for the program, which is expected to open for applications this spring.
Obama’s executive action prompted a series of political claims from the left and the right. Here’s a look at some of our fact-checks about immigration this year. (Browse all of our immigration fact-checks.)
Presidents and executive action
A few days before he announced his executive action, Obama was asked why he suddenly felt he could use executive action to address immigration issues. Obama said, "My position hasn’t changed." But it had.
Obama spoke several times in recent years about what actions he was able to undertake on immigration. At one point he said, "I am president, I am not king." Later he stated, "I’m not the emperor of the United States."
He may be neither of those things, but he did take sweeping action on immigration in the face of opposition from the Republican-controlled House. So we rated his claim that he hadn’t changed position False.
"The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century," Obama said in a speech from the White House.
We confirmed that every president since Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration. However, on several levels, Obama’s action was more sweeping than those taken earlier. We rated his claim Half True.
Stoking fears about terrorists, murderers and the Ebola virus
We fact-checked a few claims about illegal immigration that tapped into Americans’ fears about terrorism, crime and disease.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst described suspicions of an impending invasion of terrorists crossing the Rio Grande, saying that "prayer rugs have recently been found on the Texas side of the border in the brush."
Dewhurst pointed to a couple of news reports that mentioned prayer rugs at the border, but none was conclusive, and experts were skeptical. This statement got a rating of Pants on Fire.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the United States is at "historic record highs" of individuals being apprehended on the border from countries with terrorist ties such as "Pakistan or Afghanistan or Syria."
However, the data does not show record apprehensions at the border of individuals from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria or any other designated terrorist countries. Nor does it even show an upward trend. We rated his claim Pants on Fire.
Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., expressed concern about the impact on public health of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
Amid the "crisis at our southern border," there are "reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as … Ebola virus," said Gingrey, a doctor, in July.
By that point, Ebola -- which originated in Africa -- had not yet reached the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and independent epidemiologists told PolitiFact there was zero evidence that these migrants are carrying the virus across the border. We rated his claim Pants on Fire. (Since that fact-check was posted, the United States has seen a handful of Ebola cases, but the patients have come by airplane, not by trekking across the southern border.)
Claims about border security and deportations
As part of his executive action, Obama talked up his past efforts to secure the border.
"Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s," he said
We couldn’t check Obama’s literal claim about the number of people crossing the border, since such data doesn’t exist. Instead, we tried to estimate it based on Border Patrol data about the number of people caught trying to cross the border.
In 2013, about 420,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended at the border. The last time it was lower than that was 1972. However, in the 1970s, it was easier for people to make multiple attempts or excursions illegally across the border, undermining the quality of the historical comparison. We rated this claim Half True.
We also checked the claim by Telemundo news anchor and MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart, who said that "Every single day in this country, 1,000 people are deported and the vast majority of those people that are deported aren't criminals."
In 2013, an average of 1,200 people per day were formally removed from the country. But non-criminal removals only slightly outnumbered the removals of those with criminal charges. We rated his claim Half True.
In 2014, tens of thousands of children without parents showed up at the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving the U.S. government scrambling to handle the caseload. Some commentators and politicians blamed Obama for the influx, but talk show host Rush Limbaugh upped the ante when he said that the Obama administration had actually planned it.
"You tell me this is not purposeful," Limbaugh said. "Listen. Six months ago, the regime began planning how to transport tens of thousands of undocumented children from the border."
A Jan. 29, 2014, posting for contract work by the Department of Homeland Security said it wanted a private company to take as many as 65,000 children in the course of the year and hand them over to the Department of Health and Human Services.
But planning for the possibility that undocumented children could arrive at the nation’s doorstep is different than taking "purposeful" action to make children flock to the United States. Many of the factors behind the surge of children lie outside the control of the administration, notably violence in other countries. No expert we reached gave any credence to the idea that the administration planned this crisis on the border. We rated his statement Pants on Fire.
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