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FactChecking Trump’s Immigration-Related Claims in Phoenix and Las Vegas

This article is available in both English and Español

Para leer en español, vea esta traducción de El Tiempo Latino.

Former President Donald Trump has made illegal immigration and its impact on the U.S. a focus of his campaign – but several of his talking points are wrong or misleading. Here’s what we found among his immigration claims at recent events in the electoral swing states of Arizona and Nevada.

  • Trump falsely said that a proclamation by President Joe Biden to limit asylum eligibility “establishes an annual minimum of approximately 2 million illegal alien border crossers.”
  • He distorted how a mobile app for asylum appointments operated, saying it allows “free entry to be released into the United States at the push of a button.” Applicants are screened, and appointments are limited.
  • Trump offered wildly exaggerated border crossing statistics. For instance, he said that in April, “border crossings were up 1,000% compared to the same month last year.” Apprehensions, which are a proxy for illegal crossings, were down by 30%. If Trump meant April 2020 instead of “last year,” that’s misleading. Apprehensions plunged that month due to the pandemic.
  • He distorted reporting by the New York Times to misleadingly claim that “88,000” unaccompanied minors who came to the U.S. illegally and were processed by the Biden administration “are missing” and “many of those children are dead.”
  • Trump claimed that “more drugs are coming into our country right now than at any time in our history.” Federal data for drug seizures by weight are trending down under Biden. As a proxy for drug smuggling, that data suggest that fewer drugs, not more, are coming into the country. Fentanyl seizures, however, have increased significantly under both Trump and Biden.
  • Trump claimed that “300,000 people are dying a year” in the U.S. from drugs, and said the figure is “probably more than that.” A federal agency reported that there were 107,941 drug overdose deaths in 2022, and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher previously told us that any undercount “should be relatively small.”
  • He falsely claimed that “virtually 100% of the new jobs under Biden have also gone to illegal aliens.” Since Biden became president in January 2021, employment of U.S.-born workers has increased more than employment of foreign-born workers, which includes those in the U.S. legally.
  • Trump claimed that real, meaning inflation-adjusted, income and wages for the Black population are down 6% under Biden. But the most recent government data show real income is up for Black households, while real wages for full-time Black workers are down by less than what Trump said.
  • The former president claimed that illegal immigration under Biden had created “flat-out economic warfare” on Black and Hispanic Americans by “taking the jobs” of those workers, and he said unions were “being absolutely slaughtered.” Employment and union membership data show no evidence of that.

Trump first spoke at a June 6 town hall in Phoenix hosted by groups affiliated with Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit organization. Three days later, he spoke at a campaign rally in Las Vegas on June 9.

We’re focusing only on Trump’s immigration-related assertions in those speeches. In addition to the claims below, Trump repeated his unsubstantiated talking point that “the entire world is emptying their prisons and jails, insane asylums, and mental institutions” and sending those people to the U.S. He has provided no evidence for that explosive claim, as we’ve written several times.

Biden’s Immigration Proclamation

In his Phoenix remarks, Trump wrongly said that a recent Biden proclamation to limit asylum eligibility “establishes an annual minimum of approximately 2 million illegal alien border crossers,” and he further inaccurately claimed that those crossing the southern border illegally are “coming in totally unchecked, unvetted.”

Biden’s June 4 immigration proclamation limits asylum eligibility for those caught trying to cross the southern border illegally when the number of people apprehended reaches a daily average of 2,500 encounters or more for seven straight days. The new rules went into effect immediately, because apprehensions were already higher than that threshold.

As we’ve explained, the proclamation allows the Department of Homeland Security to deny asylum eligibility and remove migrants who are apprehended when the limits are in effect. There are exemptions, according to DHS — including unaccompanied children, victims of “a severe form of trafficking,” noncitizens with visas or other lawful means of entering the country, and noncitizens who enter at a legal port of entry using a DHS-approved process, such as the CBP One app (more on that later). There is also a broader exemption for people who “express a fear of return to their country or country of removal, a fear of persecution or torture, or an intention to apply for asylum” if they “establish a reasonable probability of persecution or torture in the country of removal.”

The restrictions will be lifted 14 days after the daily average of apprehensions drops to 1,500 encounters or less for seven consecutive days. But the daily monthly average hasn’t been that low since July 2020.

None of this calls for a minimum 2 million border crossers. Even if the 2,500 threshold is reached every day for a year, that totals under 1 million, and those apprehended are processed and screened, not simply allowed to come into the country no questions asked.

Trump’s claim is similar to his false claims about the bipartisan Senate immigration deal earlier this year, which would have restricted asylum eligibility when apprehensions reached 5,000 per day for a week. As Republican Sen. James Lankford, one of the architects of that failed legislation, said of the measure in February, “It’s not that the first 5,000 [migrants encountered at the border] are released, that’s ridiculous. The first 5,000 we detain, we screen and then we deport. … If we get above 5,000, we just detain and deport.”

The idea that migrants are “coming in totally unchecked, unvetted” — either before or after Biden’s proclamation — is also wrong. Immigration experts explained to us that those who are apprehended trying to cross illegally are interviewed, have criminal record checks and provide biometric data. Depending on their circumstances and asylum claims, migrants could be released with a notice to appear in immigration court, processed for expedited removal or asked if they want to be returned to Mexico.

At both his Phoenix and Las Vegas events, Trump repeated a false claim he has often made — that the U.S. “had the most secure border we’ve ever had” when he left office. “When I ran in 2016, I ran largely on the border. Border was really bad. I fixed it,” he said in Phoenix. Apprehensions on the southern border, figures used as a proxy for illegal immigration, went up under Trump by 14.7% in his last year compared with 2016.

CBP One Mobile App

The Biden administration has tried to steer those seeking asylum to an application method at legal ports of entry that requires people to sign up for a limited number of appointments through the CBP One mobile app. They are then screened at those appointments. Trump claimed that the app allows “free entry to be released into the United States at the push of a button. Pretty hard, you go like this, ‘Ding, I’m here.’ Congratulations. Welcome to America.”

That’s not how it works.

Trump also falsely said that Biden’s recent immigration proclamation “dramatically expands” the CBP One app, but it doesn’t. Appointments have been capped at 1,450 per day since last June. The Customs and Border Protection press office confirmed to us that there has been no change in the number of daily appointments available.

The CBP One app was launched in January 2023 to accept appointments for migrants who are in Mexico and want to request asylum or parole. DHS calls this “safer, humane, and more orderly” than processing between ports of entry, where migrants cross the border illegally and wait to be apprehended.

Migrants must submit information about themselves in order to get the appointment, including contact information and a photo. At the appointment, they are screened and could be subject to expedited removal, but the majority are released into the U.S. with a notice to appear in immigration court, Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that researches immigration issues, told us when we wrote about immigration in February.

As of the end of April 2024, more than 591,000 people have made appointments with the app, CBP says.

Border Stats

Trump offered some wildly exaggerated statistics on illegal border crossings in his Phoenix remarks.

He claimed that 18 million people had been allowed into the U.S. under Biden. “I think that’s the real number as of now, 18 million people.” There’s no evidence for such a figure. We asked the Trump campaign about this claim, and others cited in this article, but we didn’t receive a response.

According to data from the Office of Homeland Security Statistics, there were 6.5 million apprehensions by Border Patrol of migrants trying to cross the southern border illegally from February 2021, the month after Biden took office, to February of this year. (The figure doesn’t correspond to that same number of people because of repeat crossing attempts by the same people. For example, the recidivism rate was 27% in fiscal year 2021, according to the most recent figures from CBP.) 

Trump speaking at the “Chase the Vote” town hall at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 6. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Over that 2021-2024 time period, there were also 923,000 “inadmissibles” who arrived at legal ports of entry but didn’t have legal permission to enter the U.S. Of those 7.4 million total encounters at the border, 2.9 million were removed by CBP and 3.2 million were released with notices to appear in immigration court or report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the future, or other classifications, such as parole.

As we’ve explained before, there are also estimates for “gotaways,” or migrants who crossed the border illegally and evaded the authorities. Based on an average annual apprehension rate of 78%, which DHS provided to us, that would mean there were an estimated 1.8 million gotaways from February 2021 to February 2024.

The gotaways plus those released with court notices or other designations would total 5 million, a far cry from 18 million. There were also 407,500 transfers to HHS, which is responsible for children who cross the border on their own, unaccompanied by adult family members or legal guardians, and 883,000 transfers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE transfers include those who are then booked into ICE custody, enrolled in “alternatives to detention” (which include technological monitoring) or released by ICE. So, we don’t know how many of those were released into the country with a court notice. But even if we include those figures, it still doesn’t get us to anywhere near 18 million.

Also, these figures reflect what initially happens when migrants have come to the border. In many cases, the final decision on whether a migrant will be allowed to stay or will be deported comes later, particularly since there is a yearslong backlog of immigration court cases.

Trump also falsely claimed that in April, “border crossings were up 1,000% compared to the same month last year, 1,000% compared to last year. And by the way, last year, it was 1,000% compared to the year before.” In April, apprehensions of those trying to cross illegally were 30% lower than they were in April 2023. And the April 2023 figure was down 9.6% compared with the year before.

Update, June 18: If Trump meant the April of his last year in office, he would get closer to his 1,000% figure, but his claim would be misleading. Apprehensions by Border Patrol, which are used as a proxy for illegal immigration, plunged in April 2020 to 16,182, because of the pandemic and restrictions worldwide. Comparing April 2024 to the pandemic low in April 2020 produces a 696% increase in apprehensions, and a 951% increase when looking at all border encounters, including those deemed inadmissible at legal ports of entry.

However, Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications for the Migration Policy Institute, told us for a story we did two months ago when Trump cherry-picked the April 2020 figure: “Any complete reading of what took place at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2020 would have to note the emergence of a global pandemic that dramatically chilled mobility of all forms in its early phase.”

There’s no doubt border apprehensions have gone up significantly under Biden, but not 1,000%. In our quarterly “Biden’s Numbers” articles, we compare yearly figures to even out seasonal changes in these statistics. By that measure, apprehensions for the past 12 months ending in April are 286% higher than during Trump’s last year in office.

Migrant Minors

In February 2023, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services was not able to get in contact with more than 85,000 children whom department officials had placed with relatives or other sponsors in the U.S. after the minors illegally came to the country unaccompanied in 2021 and 2022.

In Phoenix, Trump distorted those facts and claimed without any evidence that all of the children “are missing” and that “many” of them are now deceased.

“Because of Biden’s policies, millions and millions of children have been separated from their families and pushed into the hands of the coyotes and the cartels,” Trump said. “And, you know, 88,000, I don’t know if you — if it were me, it would be the biggest story — 88,000 children are missing. … 88,000 children are missing under this administration, and they have no idea. And unfortunately, many of those children are dead.”

That’s not what the Times reported. Its article said: “While H.H.S. checks on all minors by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors, data obtained by The Times showed that over the last two years, the agency could not reach more than 85,000 children. Overall, the agency lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the HHS agency that manages the program for unaccompanied children, says its “custodial relationship with the child terminates” once he or she is placed with a sponsor. However, before closing a case file, ORR says that 30 days after releasing the child, the office should make a “Safety and Well Being Follow Up Call” and document the results, including noting if the child or sponsor could not be reached “after reasonable efforts have been exhausted.”

But if a call goes unanswered or is not returned, that doesn’t necessarily mean the child is missing. The Times said it interviewed more than 100 minors who had been released from ORR custody. Many were working dangerous jobs “in violation of child labor laws.”

As for deaths, the Times said it “found a dozen cases of young migrant workers killed since 2017.” There was little information provided on when they died or who was president when they came to the U.S. Based on the details the Times provided for four deaths that were highlighted in its story, we were able to determine that two of the children died in work-related accidents during the Trump administration. And at least one of those two reportedly came to the U.S. during the Obama administration. The two other deaths highlighted in the Times story occurred, or likely occurred, during the Biden administration.

The Washington Post Fact Checker wrote about this claim, noting that HHS also couldn’t reach children under the Trump administration.

Drug Smuggling

Trump claimed that there has been a large increase in drugs coming into the U.S. because drug smugglers do not fear the Biden administration.

“More drugs are coming into our country right now than at any time in our history, times five or times six,” he said in Phoenix. “We’ve never had massive amounts of drugs pouring into our country. We fought it like hell.”

And in Las Vegas, he claimed that under Biden “now the drugs are pouring into our country.”

Comprehensive data on the total quantity of illicit drugs smuggled into the U.S. do not exist. But CBP does track the amount of drugs seized by border officials, most of which comes through legal ports of entry. Some use the seizure data as a proxy for how much enters the country undetected. When more drugs are seized, that is seen as an indication that more drugs are coming into the country.

Trump may have been referring only to fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that is lethal in small doses. He mentioned that drug in his remarks in Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The amount of fentanyl seized by border officials has increased by about 462% under Biden, going from almost 4,800 pounds seized in fiscal year 2020 to roughly 27,000 pounds in fiscal 2023. There were about 700 pounds of fentanyl seized in FY 2016, the last full fiscal cycle before Trump took office, so there was a 586% increase in seizures of that drug when he was president.

Overall, federal data show that the total amount of drugs seized nationwide has declined each fiscal year under Biden.

As we’ve written, there were nearly 1.1 million pounds of drugs seized by the Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations in fiscal 2020, Trump’s last full fiscal cycle as president. That was an increase from the 901,000 pounds of drugs seized in fiscal 2019.

Under Biden, there were about 913,000 pounds of drugs seized in fiscal 2021, which is the highest total during his administration. The amount of drugs seized then declined to almost 656,000 pounds in fiscal 2022 and about 549,000 pounds in fiscal 2023.

As of April, more than 320,000 pounds of drugs had been seized through the first seven months of fiscal 2024. That’s more drugs seized than in the same period the prior year, but it’s still well below the totals interdicted during the end of Trump’s presidency.

Drug Overdoses

Trump again inflated the number of people dying each year in the U.S. from drug overdoses, claiming that such deaths are significantly underreported.

In Phoenix, he said: “300,000 people are dying a year. Those are the real numbers. They like to say 100[,000]. They like to say 90[,000]. It’s been that number for a long time. It’s 300,000 people, and it’s probably more than that, and we’re going to have to take very strong action because we can’t let that happen.”

Officially, there were 107,941 deaths from drug overdoses in 2022, up from 106,699 in 2021, according to the most recent figures from the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total did not top 90,000 deaths until 2020, during Trump’s administration.

When we fact-checked a similar Trump claim in March 2023, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, told us that he had “not yet seen convincing evidence that the number of overall drug deaths is drastically underreported.” Ruhm wrote in a 2018 paper that incomplete death certificates previously led to drug deaths from opioids being “understated,” but in our interview with him he said that “undercount has fallen over time” because the reporting on death records improved.

Merianne Spencer, then a CDC researcher, also told us last year that there was no evidence hundreds of thousands of drug-related deaths were not being counted.

“While we believe that there could be an undercount due to some overdose deaths still pending investigation at the close of the mortality files at the end of each year, any undercount should be relatively small,” she said in an email.

Native- and Foreign-Born Employment

In Las Vegas, Trump falsely claimed that all of the jobs added in the U.S. during the Biden administration have been filled by people residing in the U.S. illegally.

“Virtually 100% of the new jobs under Biden have also gone to illegal aliens. Did you know that?” Trump said in his remarks. “100% of the new jobs have gone to illegal aliens, can you believe it?”

But he’s wrong. According to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total employment for the native-born population has increased by almost 7.4 million under Biden. The employment level for people born in America was at 123,065,000 in January 2021, when Biden took office, and it was up to 130,445,000, as of May 2024.

Meanwhile, employment of foreign-born workers increased by about 5.6 million – from an estimated 25,318,000 in January 2021 to 30,896,000 in May 2024. BLS says the foreign-born population, meaning those who weren’t citizens at birth, includes “legally-admitted immigrants, refugees, temporary residents such as students and temporary workers, and undocumented immigrants.” There is no employment breakdown for just people in the U.S. illegally.

Trump may have been referring to a February analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that favors low immigration, which found that, when comparing the fourth quarter of 2019 with the fourth quarter of 2023, the U.S.-born employment level declined by 183,000 and the immigrant employment level increased by 2.9 million.

But Biden did not become president until more than a year after the fourth quarter of 2019; he took office when the U.S. economy was still recovering from millions of job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. So, the CIS analysis does not illustrate the change in employment under Biden. It also does not include employment data for only people without legal status.

Black Income and Wages

After falsely claiming that “illegal aliens” have taken all of the new jobs, Trump said, “Meanwhile, real wages of African Americans and the workers from all over the world that came here legally, they’re down 6% under Crooked Joe.”

Three days before that in Phoenix, Trump claimed that “real income for African Americans is down more than 6%” under Biden.

But as of 2022, the real median income for Black-only households was $52,860, according to the latest inflation-adjusted figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up about 2% from $51,880 in 2020 and $51,750 in 2019. (Figures for 2023 should be out in September.)

On the other hand, more recent data from the BLS show that real wages for Black Americans are down – but by less than Trump claimed.

For Black full-time workers, real median usual weekly earnings, when adjusted for inflation and measured in dollars valued at their average level in 1982-84, were $293 in the first quarter of 2024. That was down 3.6% from $304 during the fourth quarter of 2020.

However, some economists argue that wage statistics were inflated in 2020 because low-wage workers disproportionately lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. With millions of low-wage workers out of the workforce, average and median wages appeared to increase because workers with higher earnings kept or gained jobs.

Compared with the fourth quarter of 2019, which was before the pandemic started in early 2020, the real weekly earnings of Black full-time workers are currently down just 0.3%.

Black and Hispanic Unemployment

Unemployment rates under Biden — overall and by race — are low, as we recently reported. The rates for Black and Hispanic Americans reached or tied record lows.

Yet Trump claimed, without evidence, that migrant border crossings under Biden had created “flat-out economic warfare” on Black and Hispanic Americans by “taking the jobs” of those workers.

He also claimed, as he said in Phoenix, “Unions are being absolutely slaughtered because people are coming in, and they’re taking those union jobs.” The data on union membership rates don’t show a slaughtering in recent years.

In Las Vegas, Trump claimed that “with his border nightmare, Joe Biden is also waging an all-out war on the workers of America, especially African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.” In Phoenix, he added, “These people are taking the jobs of African Americans. They’re taking the jobs of Hispanic Americans, and it’s — they’re tremendously affected.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t support that.

The Black unemployment rate was 9.3% when Biden took office, and it’s now 6.1% as of May. Over that time, it hit a record low of 4.8% in April 2023. The current 6.1% rate is the same as the pre-pandemic rate in February 2020.

The Hispanic or Latino unemployment rate was 8.5% when Biden took office and has dropped to 5% as of May. In September 2022, it tied a record rate of 3.9%, which was first hit under the Trump administration. The rate now is 0.7 percentage points above the pre-pandemic rate of 4.3%.

There are also more job openings in the U.S. than job seekers: 8.1 million job openings in April and 6.5 million unemployed job seekers the same month.

The number of unemployed Black Americans has gone down under Biden, from 1.9 million people when he took office to 1.3 million in May. The level of Hispanic or Latino unemployment dropped from 2.5 million to 1.6 million over the same time period.

As for Trump’s claim that people who have crossed the border illegally are taking union jobs, the available statistics don’t back that up, either. Our fact-checking colleagues at Politifact interviewed economists and labor experts on this issue, who said migrants who come to the U.S. aren’t likely to take union jobs and instead work in lower level jobs such as being a day laborer.

A 2022 Cato Institute working paper posited that immigration overall from 1980 to 2020 led to a 5.7 percentage point reduction in union density in the U.S. because immigrants “have lower preferences for unionization and increase diversity in the working population that, in turn, decreases solidarity among workers.” That paper doesn’t show immigrants are taking union jobs, but rather having an effect on unionization. (And one of the authors of the report noted on the Cato website that there were other issues to consider, such as whether “unions reduce immigration rather than immigration reducing unions.”)

Regardless, the yearly rates of union membership among wage and salary workers under Biden don’t show evidence that unions are being “slaughtered,” as Trump claimed.

In 2023, 10% of wage and salary workers were union members, down from 10.8% in 2020, the year before Biden took office. But the rate has been declining for several decades; it was 20.1% in 1983, according to BLS figures.

The rate declined under Trump, too, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The union membership rate was 10.7% in 2016, before Trump took office, and it dropped to 10.3% in 2019. The following year, when a union job could have offered more security than others during the pandemic, as researchers found, the rate went up to 10.8%.

The question of how immigration overall, not only illegal immigration, affects the U.S. economy and jobs has long been debated and studied. We wrote about the issue in 2010 and found: “Study after study has shown that immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby creating jobs. There is even broad agreement among economists that while immigrants may push down wages for some, the overall effect is to increase average wages for American-born workers.”

A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released in 2016 largely reiterated those conclusions. It said there was “little evidence that immigration significantly affects the overall employment levels of native-born workers,” according to a press release on the report, and that the impact on wages over a 10-year or longer period was “very small.” However, the National Academies said there was “some evidence that recent immigrants reduce the employment rate of prior immigrants” and that if there is a negative impact on wages, it’s “most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born workers who have not completed high school—who are often the closest substitutes for immigrant workers with low skills.”

Those conclusions, too, are for all of the foreign-born in the U.S., not solely those who entered the U.S. illegally.

Those in the country illegally don’t have legal authorization to work — but many do anyway. A 2022 Congressional Research Service report said most of those in the country illegally participate in the labor force, and their jobs are “highly concentrated in certain industries, including agriculture, construction, leisure/hospitality, services, and manufacturing.” (Those who have applied for asylum have to wait six months to receive a work authorization.)

Update, June 18: We updated this story to include more information, including in the bullet at the top, regarding Trump’s inaccurate statement about apprehensions at the southern border in April.

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