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Fact-Checking Donald Trump's Immigration Speech in Arizona

Trump, in a highly anticipated address on immigration Wednesday, promised "the truth." The facts indicate he did not deliver.
Image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Aug. 31.CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

In a highly anticipated address on immigration Wednesday night in Arizona, Donald Trump lambasted the media for not reporting "the facts" he felt were relevant to the national conversation on immigration.

"But the facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them, the politicians won’t talk about them, and the special interests spend a lot of money trying to cover them up. Today you will get the truth," he said.

Related: Trump Recommits to Mass Deportation in Fiery Immigration Speech

But many of Trump's own facts were misleading and inaccurate, obscuring truth in a debate both parties agree is necessary. He cited research and statistics from special interests like the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — groups that promote dramatically decreased rates of legal immigration.

Let's take a look what Trump said about legal and illegal immigration.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "The time has come for a new immigration commission to develop a new set of reforms to our legal immigration system in order to achieve the following goals,” Trump said, listing keeping immigration levels "within historical norms" and selecting immigrants based on their “likelihood of success."

THE FACTS: Trump is largely describing existing legal immigration policy, which requires potential immigrants to petition for visas or green cards based on employment or family ties. Many of Trump’s proposals are not new: He's said the U.S. should invest in border security (it has) and deport more undocumented immigrants than ever before (it is). Trump doesn’t explain what he means by historical norms, but the number of legal immigrants allowed in the United States has stayed the same, at around a million, for most recent years.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws."

THE FACTS: The vast majority of undocumented immigrants do not meet Trump's various demonizing descriptions, but the implication here is that undocumented immigrants are more criminal and threaten American lives routinely. However, two studies found that despite high poverty rates — which typically coincides with high crime rates — Latino immigrants in border towns and New York City respectively were more law abiding, with lower crime rates, than non-Latino white and black Americans.

What's more, illegal immigration is at its lowest point since 1972. The only real rise? The flow of unaccompanied young children fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "On top of that, illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion dollars a year. For the money we are going to spend on illegal immigration over the next ten years, we could provide one million at-risk students with a school voucher."

THE FACTS: As the Washington Post notes in their lengthy fact-check, this large number comes from FAIR and includes estimates how much it costs to educate and provide medical care for the children of undocumented immigrants born here — in other words, legal citizens.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "The truth is, the central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants or however many there may be — and honestly we've been hearing that number for years. It's always 11 million. Our government has no idea. It could be 3 million. It could be 30 million. They have no idea what the number is."

THE FACTS: The government has a pretty good idea of what that number is, and there's no evidence it is anywhere near 30 million. PolitiFact has ranked that claim Pants on Fire.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: “Most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers.”

THE FACTS: Economists — at least the ones who aren’t working for anti-immigration research groups — have struggled to find a correlation between native unemployment and immigration.

A 2006 Pew Hispanic Center study found that while Trump is right that immigrants tend to be younger and less educated than their native counterparts, “no consistent pattern emerges to show that native-born workers suffered or benefited from increased numbers of foreign-born workers.”

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "And, they [the Obama administration] also think the biggest thing, and you know this, it's not nuclear, and it's not ISIS, it's not Russia, it's not China, it's global warming."

THE FACTS: The president has said global warming is a great threat, but routinely says fighting terrorism is the greatest.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: “These illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.”

THE FACTS: This is true for undocumented immigrants just as it is true for Americans: Taxes do not cover what the government spends on its citizens. It’s worth noting that immigrants in the U.S. collectively contribute nearly $12 billion to state and local tax coffers. A 2016 report estimated that a third of undocumented immigrants are homeowners paying property tax, half of them pay income taxes, and as many as three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay into the U.S. Social Security system — an investment they will not receive a return on unless they become citizens.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "President Obama and Hillary Clinton have engaged in gross dereliction of duty by surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders."

THE FACTS: Deportations have reached an all-time high under the current president, and his Priority Enforcement Program has targeted criminals and those who pose a threat to national security.

Related: The U.S. Already Spends Billions on Border Security

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "President Obama and Hillary Clinton support Sanctuary Cities, they support catch-and-release on the border, they support visa overstays, they support the release of dangerous criminals from detention — and they support unconstitutional executive amnesty."

THE FACTS: The president earned praise from conservatives for changing federal policy surrounding how immigrants are prosecuted as leverage to push back against sanctuary cities.

For what it’s worth, Trump is contradicting himself here. Over the last few weeks Trump said he wouldn’t use detention centers as part of his immigration policy and would do just as past presidents have — leading many to believe he’d stick with the catch-and-release and might be open to supporting legalizing undocumented immigrants.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "Hillary Clinton has pledged amnesty in her first 100 days, and her plan will provide Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare for illegal immigrants — breaking the federal budget."

THE FACTS: The Washington Post awarded Trump’s claim that Clinton would provide undocumented immigrants with Social Security four Pinocchios— it is false. Those granted deferred action through the president’s immigration executive actions are not eligible for Obamacare benefits, but with a decade of work history and paid income taxes can quality for Social Security and Medicare upon retirement.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "Mexico will pay for the wall."

THE FACTS: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said that he reiterated to Trump that his nation would not pay for the wall.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "We will restore the highly successful Secure Communities program. We will expand and revitalize the popular 287(g) partnerships, which will help to identify hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens in local jails."

THE FACTS: These programs are both controversial and their efficacy has been questioned, the Post notes. The Secure Communities program failed to meet its goals while the 287(g) program was criticized for diverting local resources towards federal immigration enforcement and led to the politicized local involvement of Trump surrogate Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found to be racially profiling by federal authorities.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.”

THE FACTS: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans are not amnesty. They grant some legal protections — including deferred deportment and work permits — to young immigrants brought here as children and to the parents of legal citizens. Amnesty is an official, legal pardon, and the term is routinely used to exaggerate, and demonize, a political opponent's immigration policies.

WHAT TRUMP SAID: "Those [immigrants] released include individuals convicted of killings, sexual assault and some of the most heinous crimes imaginable, who went on to re-offend at a very high rate."

THE FACTS: This is true. A Boston Globe investigation noted that while immigrants are not more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, immigrants convicted of crimes who were supposed to be deported but were instead released did re-offend at a very high rate.