Fact-checking Trump's speech declaring a national emergency

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House on Feb. 15, 2019. Copyright Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images
By Jane C. Timm with NBC News Politics
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Trump spoke and took questions from reporters for nearly an hour, touching on immigration, his emergency powers, China and more.


President Donald Trump, in a freewheeling speech on Friday declaring a national emergency to address what he said was an "invasion" threatening the U.S.-Mexico border, offered a number of false claims and inaccurate statistics to support his decision.

From the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump spoke and took questions from reporters for nearly an hour, touching on immigration, his emergency powers, China and more.

Here's what the president said, and the facts.

1. A border wall is necessary to curb illegal drug trade

Border fencing is essential "because we have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into the country," Trump said Friday, later saying the country is facing an "invasion" of drugs.

"With a wall, it would be very easy" to stop drugs and crime from entering the U.S., he said.

But it's unlikely a border wall would have much effect on the illegal drug trade. Drugs primarily come into the U.S. through ports of entry and through the mail, not through unsecured portions of the southern border, according to the government's own data.

2. It is a "lie" to say drugs come through ports of entry

"When you look and when you listen to politicians — [in] particular certain Democrats, they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's just a lie," Trump said.

It's Trump who has his facts wrong here. Government reports have repeatedly shown that illegal drugs primarily enter the country through ports of entry. And it's not just Democrats who have publicly acknowledged this information.

Trump's then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — who went on to become White House chief of staff until December 2018 — said in April 2017 that illegal drug traffic "mostly comes through the ports of entry."

3. "Walls work 100 percent," Trump said

Border barriers between the U.S. and Mexico do not have 100 percent success rate. These fences have been cut through, dug under and climbed over in the past.

To reduce illegal crossings, border authorities have recommended, and requested in budgets, a combination of fencing, technology and other enforcement efforts.

4. Violence in El Paso was "100 percent better" after a wall went up

Speaking about crime and violence, Trump said "it was not only better, it was 100 percent better" when a border barrier was constructed in El Paso, Texas.

Crime data published by the FBI shows otherwise, as NBC News reported in a fact check earlier this month.

Violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence's construction and after its completion in 2009, law enforcement data shows.

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5. The U.S. is being invaded

The president repeatedly used the word "invasion" to describe the situation at the southern border, pointing particularly to drugs, crime, and human trafficking.

But there's little evidence the southern border is experiencing a new state of emergency. Violence isn't spilling over the border, and terrorists aren't being caught in droves trying to cross it. Illegal drugs largely come through legal ports of entry, not unguarded parts of the border, according to border authorities.

Illegal border crossings have been dropping for years, and while border apprehensions have risen in recent months, they are still markedly lower than they were twenty years ago, Customs and Border Protection data shows.


And though Trump has focused on the border, illegal immigration in the U.S. is being driven by another factor: people who overstay their visas. More than 701,900 people overstayed their visas during fiscal year 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security. People who overstay their visas usually enter the country through an airport, not from the border.

6. China is paying the U.S. billions, thanks to tariffs

"Right now China is paying us billions of dollars in tariffs and I haven't even gotten started," Trump said.

Trump misstates how tariffs work. Foreign nations do not pay tariffs directly to the U.S., and often, American consumers ending up footing the bill.

Tariffs are a fee charged by the U.S. when a good is brought into the country. They're designed to make foreign-made goods more expensive — thus boosting domestic producers — but that expense, charged to the importer, is typically passed down to American consumers.

7. Thousands of MS-13 'gang monsters' have been deported

"We have removed thousands of MS-13 gang monsters. Thousands. They're out of this country. We take them out by the thousands. And they are monsters," Trump claimed.


While the U.S. does deport thousands of people with suspected gang ties each year, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up its efforts, Trump is likely inflating the number of MS-13 gang members who are included in that number.

In fiscal year 2017, the U.S. arrested 4,818 people with gang ties. That number included fewer than 800 MS-13 members. In fiscal year 2018, ICE removed nearly 6,000 known or suspected gang members, the agency reported. But the report did not indicate how many of those people had a connection to MS-13.

Many MS-13 members are U.S. citizens — the gang was first formed in Los Angeles — and cannot be deported.

This is the case with many gang operations. In one large gang-targeting operation led by ICE in 2017, 1,378 individuals were arrested. Of those, 933 were U.S. citizens.

8. We changed how China classifies fentanyl

"President Xi has agreed to put fentanyl on his list of deadly, deadly drugs. And it's a criminal penalty, and the penalty is death. That's frankly one of the things I'm most excited about in our trade deal," he said.


Fentanyl and many similar substances have been a controlled substance in China for years, The Associated Press reported recently, and Trump is misstating what the Chinese government agreed to do as part of ongoing trade negotiations with the U.S.

Xi agreed to regulate all substances similar to fentanyl like they regulate fentanyl, which would help the U.S. address its opioid epidemic by keeping it out of the U.S.

Still, the AP added, China has previously promised stop exporting substances the U.S. considers illegal — even if they are legal in China — but has failed to make good.

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