Illegal immigration "wasn’t a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement."

Donald Trump on Thursday, August 6th, 2015 in the first Republican debate

Trump: Illegal immigration wasn't on anyone's mind before he entered the race

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP)

Donald Trump’s signature self confidence was on full display at the first Republican debate. He was the sole candidate on the stage who refused to pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. When Fox News moderator Chris Wallace challenged him to provide evidence to back up his claim that the Mexican government is intentionally sending criminals across the border, Trump had this rebuttal.

"If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris," Trump said. "You wouldn’t even be talking about it. This wasn’t a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement."

In light of the prominent role immigration has played in the Republican Party, that is a bold assertion.

We decided to see what the record says. We attacked this in two ways. Since Trump directed his comment at Wallace, we looked at the transcripts from Wallace’s show, Fox News Sunday. We also cast a wider net by searching the Nexis database of major newspaper articles.

Both approaches show Trump has an exaggerated sense of his role in the Republican primary.

Chris Wallace

Trump made his presidential announcement speech on June 16, 2015. In the seven broadcasts of Fox News Sunday before that day, immigration policy came up in five shows. Wallace himself raised the issue with Republican candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and in the context of a discussion about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Substitute hosts for Wallace also talked about immigration policy.

In the seven broadcasts after Trump’s announcement speech, immigration policy again came up five times. In fairness to Trump, often this was in reference to the billionaire from New York. For example, when Wallace had another GOP contender on his show, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he asked him this: "You have done more than just fire back on Trump on the issue of immigration. You devoted a major speech to Donald Trump in which you accused him of a, quote, ‘toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense.’ "

So Trump has been a focus of conversation, but on Wallace’s show, the topic of immigration reform came up just as often before Trump announced as afterward.

Major newspapers

We used the Lexis-Nexis database to count the number of times illegal immigration or undocumented immigrants came up in major newspapers in the days before and after Trump’s announcement on June 16. For the curious, it has been 51 days since Trump jumped into the race for the White House. We compared the number of mentions in that period to those during the 51 days prior to his announcement. This table shows the tally for mentions of two terms -- "undocumented" and "illegal immigrant" -- within 10 words of the word "president."

Date range

Search term

Number of articles

April 25 to June 15



June 16 to Aug. 6



April 25 to June 15

Illegal immigrant


June 16 to Aug. 6

Illegal immigrant


Source: Lexis-Nexis

So, the topic of undocumented immigrants came up more often before Trump announced his run through this lens.Articles using the term "illegal immigrant" appeared slightly less often before he gave his speech, but mentions were still relatively common -- and certainly not zero.

Our ruling

Trump said that if it weren’t for him, Wallace in particular and the media in general wouldn’t be talking about illegal immigration. The numbers tell a very different story. For Wallace and his Fox News show itself, the topic came up just as frequently before Trump announced as afterward. For mentions in major newspapers, the pattern is somewhat mixed, but mentions were common before Trump announced.

There’s no doubt Trump’s bombastic comments brought additional attention to the issue, but the issue was on the minds of the media -- and politicians -- before Trump entered the fray.

But Trump stated that the topic would not be on the table at all if not for him. That is clearly not the case.

We rate this claim False.