By Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore and Jessica McDonald
February 6, 2019
President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address included many claims that were familiar to fact-checkers. He has repeated most of these assertions before:
- Trump wrongly claimed El Paso transformed from one of the most dangerous cities in the nation to one of the safest “immediately” after construction of a border barrier. El Paso was a relatively safe city before construction of a 57-mile-long fence started in mid-2008. And violent crime did not drop in the immediate years after its completion.
- The president twice referred to human trafficking to make the case for ending illegal immigration. However, experts told us legal ports are the typical mode of entry in the bulk of the cases they deal with concerning foreign nationals.
- Trump falsely said a “strong security wall” along San Diego’s border with Mexico “almost completely ended illegal crossings.” A government report said the fence “by itself, did not have a discernible impact.”
- The president urged Congress to pass a border security plan, which includes $5.7 billion for a border wall, by citing the flow of illicit drugs from Mexico. But drugs mainly enter the U.S. in cars and trucks traveling through legal ports of entry.
- Trump boasted that “more people are working now than at any time in our history –- 157 million.” That’s roughly accurate, but due to population growth, the country has almost continually hit historical employment highs. Since recovery from the Great Recession, the U.S. been setting new records virtually every month since mid-2014.
- He exaggerated the number of jobs created under his presidency by starting the clock at his election, and he inflated the manufacturing job gain even more.
- The president said, “African American, Hispanic American and Asian American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.” It’s true the rates have reached the lowest levels ever recorded during the last year, but the gap between white unemployment and the rate for black and Hispanic Americans has remained the same.
- Trump inflated the reduction in food stamp recipients on his watch by including the last few months under President Barack Obama.
- Trump mischaracterized New York’s newly passed abortion law and did not accurately represent Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments about an abortion bill in that state.
- Trump boasted about the U.S. being the top oil and natural gas producer in the world. Those achievements, however, occurred years ago or have been expected for a long time.
- He also incorrectly claimed that the U.S. was a net energy exporter. America isn’t yet but is expected to be in 2020.
- Trump said that he signed legislation “so that we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans.” But it was already possible to fire VA employees before the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act became law in June 2017.
The president’s address on Feb. 5 had been delayed by a week in the aftermath of a partial government shutdown. His remarks, and the false and misleading claims we noted, mainly concerned the issues of immigration and the economy.
Trump referred twice to human trafficking when making the case for ending illegal immigration. However, experts say typically the cases they deal with concerning foreign nationals are people brought through legal ports of entry.
The president said it was time “for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.” But ending illegal immigration wouldn’t end human trafficking.
He later said the traffickers “take advantage of the wide open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.” There’s no data on how many are smuggled illegally across the border with Mexico for human trafficking, experts say.
“Yes, in some cases it does happen,” Brandon Bouchard, director of media relations for Polaris, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, said of people being smuggled across the border. Based on the group’s experience, however, “we believe the vast majority of people are coming through legal ports of entry.” And the statistics the group has, which come from the calls it receives through the hotline, show that labor trafficking is the largest trafficking issue for foreign nationals.
“When it’s labor trafficking, people are recruited in their home country under false pretenses,” Bouchard told us. “They think they’re coming into the U.S. for a job.”
The available data suggest most come through ports of entry. The United Nations’ International Organization on Migration has found that “nearly 80% of international human trafficking journeys cross through official border points, such as airports and land border control points,” based on 10 years’ worth of cases on which the IOM has assisted.
“Children are less likely to be trafficked through official border points: out of all the children in our sample, official border points are used in 56% of cases,” the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, an IOM initiative, says.
Polaris’ data for the U.S. come from those who call its hotline. From January 2015 through the end of June 2018, calls to the hotline reported more than 35,000 potential victims of trafficking. And of those victims whose immigration status was known (nearly 14,000), half were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and half were foreign nationals, according to Bouchard.
Martina Vandenberg, founder, and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center told us the center searched its database of 1,435 trafficking cases since 2009 for those involving kidnapping or smuggling charges. It found 26 and 29 cases, respectively, that also included those charges. “The data refute the claims Trump is making about the efficacy of a wall,” she said.
Evangeline M. Chan, director of the Immigration Law Project at Safe Horizon, a group that assists trafficking survivors in New York City, said that trafficking “is a much more complex and nuanced problem than most people realize.” The type of coercion used is “a lot more subtle” than a kidnapping-type scenario.
Typically what Chan sees are victims who are “lured into the country with promises of a better life.” They’re “very often brought to the country legally through ports of entry and using visas and legal documents.”
A large portion of the survivors Safe Horizon assists are from Southeast Asia, but the next area of origin is Mexico and Central America, she said.