A Blizzard of Misinformation

Responding to Trump’s Primetime Address on Immigration

Blizzard — by Several seconds, Creative Commons license
“Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.” — Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny

As soon as Donald Trump announced tonight’s primetime address — covered inevitably, slavishly by the network and cable television news organizations — anyone who has been following this administration on the topic of immigration knew to brace themselves for a blizzard of lies and misinformation.

I suppose, you could say, we weren’t disappointed. Naturally, Trump used the bully pulpit of the Oval Office and the megaphone of a primetime address to spread the same fear-engaging misinformation he’s been blaring for years now. Even within his opening words, he quickly departed from the facts, from reality: “I am speaking to you because there is a growing and humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” he said. In fact, we don’t have a growing security crisis at our border and the only growing humanitarian crisis we’re witnessing is one of Trump and his administration’s making.

As most people know who have paid even a scintilla of attention, illegal immigration was trending down for years before Trump became President or even ran for the Presidency. And the most recent statistics only continue to highlight that unauthorized immigration into the United States has fallen to its lowest level in a decade. Furthermore, some 40+% of undocumented immigrants who do stay here arrive here visa a flight, not by crossing our southern border. In fact, recent studies show most of the undocumented immigrants who come here enter with a valid visa — legally — and simply overstay.

As part of his fear mongering routine, Trump also had to drop some crime statistics. Factually, however, crime is lower in immigrant communities and immigrants are less likely to be found in jail. In a July 2015 report, the American Immigration Council showed that “holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education.”

In fact, the Council even showed that when in 1990 to 2013, the number of undocumented immigrants did triple in size, the violent crime rate also fell 48 percent during that time.

Additionally, 60 percent of deported undocumented “criminal” immigrants have committed victimless crimes. Some 12 percent did commit violent crimes and less than 1 percent (0.6 percent) were convicted of murder. But remember, those statistics apply only to those immigrants deported for criminal activity. Not for the general immigrant population.

As Walter Ewing of the American Immigration Council told me for an earlier piece on this topic, “You can find many examples of any particular group of people committing horrible crimes: white men, white women, black men, black women, I mean, everyone. You can find the anecdotes, but that has nothing to do with crime rates.”

Some of the other misinformation Trump disseminated tonight?

Heroin isn’t pouring across our southern borders. The majority of heroin enters the country through legal ports of entry. Only a minuscule amount crosses the border.

Also, given Trump’s drum beating and fear-mongering, it’s important to highlight that there are no cases of terrorists being caught at our southern border. Zero. Who confirms that? The Justice Department.

That number of 20,000 children illegally entering the country in a single month Trump mentioned? That’s almost certainly way off, too. The Border Patrol figures were referring not to children but “family units” apprehended. Border Patrol defines a Family Unit as “the number of individuals (either a child under 18 years old, parent or legal guardian) apprehended with a family member by the U.S. Border Patrol.” Nonetheless, any figures like this have to be considered in the context of what we already firmly established above: Undocumented immigration has only gone down over the past decade. And in particular, the numbers from Mexico actually continue to decline.

No previous United States President — Republican or Democrat — has called for a wall in my lifetime. Trump originally described his “Wall” (always with a capital “w”) as a 30-foot concrete wall, which would cross 2000 miles of our southern border. And though Trump continues to move the goalposts on what exactly would constitute a “Wall,” no previous President demanded such a wall for decades upon decades. Neither Republican nor Democrat. Not even George W. Bush, who came straight from Texas, a border state. (His position on immigration was remarkably nuanced compared to Donald Trump’s.) Not Ronald Reagan, who came from the border state of California. In fact, in 1986, Reagan offered amnesty for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, who had entered the country before 1982.

In a 1984 foreign policy debate against Walter Mondale, Reagan made his position quite clear: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally.”

It is true that we already have miles upon miles of border fence in places where it makes sense. (I have visited it on multiple occasions.) And we have had for years. Sure we can mend it and even extend it if necessary. But this whole focus on a “great wall” has been whipped up by a President who has long tapped into xenophobia to generate support for his campaign and now for his administration.

Why haven’t the Democrats and the media done a better job of educating people about all of these preceding facts? Even last night, when Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were given the unique opportunity to debunk Trump’s claims before tens of millions of Americans, they chose instead sound off defensively — spending all of their allotted time enumerating the efforts the Democrats have made to end the shutdown. Facts and data to combat the smearing of immigrants as criminals? To disrupt the misinformation about “hordes” of undocumented immigrants “pouring” into the country? Untouched. Unmentioned.

Of course, they wouldn’t have changed the minds of Trump’s more fanatical supporters, but they could have better equipped those who disagree with him — and those who on the fence — with the facts. With specifics. Instead, they droned on with generalizations and platitudes. They failed.

One small grace. We hoped Trump wouldn’t declare a national emergency tonight and attempt to use the military to build his wall. That would be the crowning achievement of his now years long campaign of lies and misinformation to misinform the American public about immigration into the United States. For now, we’ve been spared that gross misuse of his Presidential powers.

The only immigration crisis is one of Trump’s creation: Children separated from their parents. Thousands of kids in custody. Children dying in custody. Immigrants dying in custody. Legitimate, legal asylum seekers being turned away.

It’s a tragedy. Trump’s only real legacy so far. Our national shame.