"If it weren’t for me … (illegal immigration) wouldn’t even be a big subject."  

Donald Trump on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 in comments during the CNN debate

Donald Trump wrongly claims he started immigration debate

Republican presidential candidates traded jabs with Donald Trump at Thursday night's debate over health care and plans for replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Count on Donald Trump to repeat his talking points.

The Republican presidential debate in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25, 2016, opened with a discussion about illegal immigration. Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz sparred over how to deal with people living here illegally and how to secure the southern U.S. border.

In the middle of the back-and-forth, Trump made the blanket statement that we wouldn’t be talking about illegal immigration if not for him.

"If it weren’t for me … (illegal immigration) wouldn’t even be a big subject," Trump said.

It’s a line we’ve heard from Trump since at least August. It was False then, and it’s still False now.

Back in August, we searched major newspapers for the 51 days before Trump entered the race -- on June 16, 2015 -- and the 51 days after Trump’s announcement.

We looked for the terms "undocumented" and "illegal immigrant" within 10 words of the word "president."

The results? The subject of illegal immigration certainly was a subject pre-Trump, and post-Trump.

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

Anecdotally, Cruz certainly has made illegal immigration a subject of his campaign.

In Cruz’s announcement speech for president March 23, 2015, Cruz said, "Instead of the lawlessness and the president’s unconstitutional executive amnesty, imagine a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders."

Our ruling

Trump said, "If it weren’t for me … (illegal immigration) wouldn’t even be a big subject."

Trump’s talk about building a wall -- and making Mexico pay for it -- certainly has made headlines. But talk about America’s immigration system and proposed changes preceded the billionaire businessman’s candidacy for president.

We rate this claim False.