Wall separating the United States from Mexico, showing graffiti from the Tijuana side.

United States President Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech

On the evening of January 8, 2019, United States President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the topic of immigration and what he calls a humanitarian and national security crisis on the country’s southern border as a shutdown over wall funds continue.

We have compiled a list of claims made by President Trump during his brief address to the nation that we thought would benefit from clarification, explanation, or fact-checking. The full text of his speech can be found here.

  • All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.  This is an oversimplification of an extremely complex topic, but a 2010 report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded:

    Illegal immigration to the United States in recent decades has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are black men. Expert economic opinions concerning the negative effects range from modest to significant. Those panelists that found modest effects overall nonetheless found significant effects in industry sectors such as meatpacking and construction.

    But, cautioned the report, immigration (authorized or not) should not be the only factor considered:

    To be sure, factors other than illegal immigration contribute to black unemployment. The problem cannot be solved without solving the problems of the high school dropout rate, high rates of family instability, and low job-retention rates. Moreover, halting illegal immigration is not a panacea even for the problem of depressed wage rates for low-skilled jobs. If upward pressure is brought to bear on low-skilled wages, increasing globalization of the economy may result in some of these jobs simply being exported to other countries.

    Still, the effect of illegal immigration on the wages of low-skilled workers, who are disproportionately minority members, is a piece of the puzzle that must be considered by policymakers in formulating sound immigration policy.

  • 90 percent of heroin comes across the southern border. True — it tends to travel north from Mexico, where much of the heroin that arrives in the United States is now produced — but the bulk of it comes through legal ports of entry and will not be stopped by a wall of any size. “Heroin seizures almost predominantly are through the port of entry and either carried in a concealed part of a vehicle or carried by an individual,” the former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told a Congressional committee in 2016. “The majority of any heroin that we seize is not between the ports of entry.”
  • More Americans will die this year from heroin than in the Vietnam war. According to the National Archives, there are records for 58,220 members of the American military who died in Vietnam. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15,000 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States in 2017.

    However, according to a report from the Police Executive Research Forum, more people died of opioid overdoses overall in 2016 than in the Vietnam War, saying:

    But never has PERF worked on an issue more vexing and painful than the opioids crisis that the United States is now facing. In just one year, 2016, nearly as many people died from opioid overdoses as all U.S. fatalities during the entire course of the Vietnam War.

  • Over the years thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now [put up a border wall]. There is already a border wall; further, data shows that undocumented people commit crimes at a rate lower than the general population. A study published in the multidisciplinary journal Criminology in March 2018 concluded:

    Given this pattern in the data, the results provide further evidence that unauthorized immigration is, in general, negatively associated with violent crime. At the very least, they seriously undermine claims that violent crime has increased as a result of undocumented immigration.

  • One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims by far of our broken system. It’s true that women and children are especially victimized as they travel to the United States border. The number of women assaulted is likely to be much higher than one in three, although accurate statistics are difficult to find. In 2014, a Fusion story estimated that up to 80 percent of women and girls are sexually assaulted on their journey to the United States:

    “I think almost all of the women are abused on the way north,” said lawyer Elvira Gordillo, who helps trafficked migrant women who get trafficked into prostitution. She’s lived and worked in Frontera Comlapa, along the Mexico-Guatemala border, for over a decade. “[These migrants] know the price to pay for getting to the United States. The price is being sexually violated.”

    Perpetrators can be coyotes, other migrants, bandits, or even government authorities.

  • Democrats requested a steel barrier, not a concrete wall. Trump began talking about “steel slats” on December 20, 2018; the shutdown (the second in 2018) began on December 22.

    That means the “steel” idea would have come before any negotiations with Democrats.

  • The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the cost of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs combined exceeds $740 billion a year. However, the numbers are not as relevant as they might seem, as much of the drugs smuggled into the United States through Mexico come in through legal ports of entry or by air or sea. In 2017, Foreign Policy broke down a report from the Drug Enforcement Administration about controlling the flow of drugs into the United States:

    The DEA report does not address the wall but details how drugs enter the country, and many of the examples illustrate that it is not through land routes. “According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport,” the document states.

    The report, which focuses heavily on the growth of Dominican trafficking groups, outlines a variety of ways drugs enter the United States, including via couriers carrying cocaine-filled suitcases on commercial flights — sometimes with the help of airline employees — or via mail.

  • The wall will always be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico. This claim has been repeated over and over again by a variety of politicians. The Washington Post deemed it “nonsensical” in a detailed breakdown of the claim:

    It’s worth noting that the trade deficit with Mexico has been climbing during the Trump presidency, so by his own (nonsensical) math, he’s already in deficit. Even if the trade deal results in a smaller trade deficit because Mexico is buying more goods from the United States, it does not necessarily translate into greater revenue for the U.S. government. NAFTA eliminated tariffs between Mexico and Canada, so there is no additional revenue to earn by somehow causing trade to increase with lower tariffs.

    The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is actually a modest updating of the 25-year-old NAFTA. Some elements of the deal were borrowed from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal Trump scrapped at the start of his term.


    There’s nothing in the agreement that earmarks funds for the wall. And any revenue raised via tariffs (or some other source) still must be appropriated by Congress, which thus far has refused to fund Trump’s wall.

    Finally, the agreement must still be ratified by legislators in the three countries and would not take effect until 2020 at the earliest.

    If there was a claim in his speech that you wish to see fact-checked or deconstructed, please let us know on social media or via email.