Fact check: Trump makes false and unsubstantiated claims in border speech

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump delivered back-to-back Thursday speeches at different Texas locations near the border with Mexico.

Biden’s speech, largely delivered from a prepared text, was highly factual. Biden devoted much of the address to an accurate description of various provisions of the bipartisan border bill he supports but Trump’s opposition helped to kill in Congress.

Trump’s speech minutes prior, much of which appeared to be off the cuff, was filled with assertions about migrants that were unsubstantiated, misleading or plain false.

Some of his words were too conspiratorially vague to definitively fact-check. For example, Trump spoke of migrants as “entire columns of fighting-age men” and said “they look like warriors to me; something’s going on, and it’s bad” – winking at a baseless narrative about foreign adversaries using migration to surreptitiously assemble some sort of enemy force in the US. He said he thinks unnamed people are allowing migrants into the country because “they’re looking for votes,” faintly echoing his previous false claim about migrants being signed up to vote in the 2024 election – and declining to explain that non-citizens cannot vote in federal, state and almost all local elections (though some migrants might potentially receive citizenship years down the road).

Trump also spoke of the US being “overrun” by a “new form” of crime he called “Biden migrant crime.” He made that claim though early data suggests that in 2023 the US was at or around its lowest violent crime rate in more than 50 years amid a sharp decline in homicides; though there were cases of undocumented people committing crimes during his own presidency; and though, despite some recent cases in which undocumented people are accused of serious offenses, research has found no connection between immigration and crime - and sometimes that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than people born in the US.

Here’s a fact check of two of Trump’s other claims.

An evidence-free story about foreign countries and ‘insane asylums’

Trump repeated - and broadened – his familiar story about how migrants are supposedly arriving in the US after having been deliberately freed by foreign leaders from prisons and mental health facilities.

After claiming that “they’re coming from jails and they’re coming from prisons and they’re coming from mental institutions and they’re coming from insane asylums,” Trump added, “You know, I know many of the leaders of these other countries that are doing it.” He said moments later, “You look at the jails now – you look at the jails throughout the region but more importantly throughout the world, they’re emptying out, because they’re dumping them into the United States.”

Facts First: There is no evidence for Trump’s claim that jails “throughout the world” are being emptied out so that prisoners can travel to the US as migrants, nor for his claim that foreign leaders are also emptying out mental health facilities for this purpose. Last year, Trump’s campaign was unable to provide any evidence for his narrower claim at the time that South American countries in particular were emptying their mental health facilities to somehow dump patients upon the US.

Representatives for two anti-immigration organizations told CNN at the time they had not heard of anything that would corroborate Trump’s story, as did three experts at organizations favorable toward immigration. CNN’s own search did not produce any evidence. The website also found nothing.

In response to CNN’s 2023 inquiry, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung cited one source for Trump’s claim about prisons being emptied for migration purposes – a 2022 article from right-wing website Breitbart News about a supposed federal intelligence report warning Border Patrol agents that Venezuela had done this. But that vague and unverified claim about Venezuela’s actions has never been corroborated.

Even if Venezuela in particular had indeed freed prisoners to allow people to try to migrate to the US, that would be insufficient proof for Trump’s current claim that countries “throughout the world” are doing so. And a second article that Cheung cited at the time, about Mexico’s president having freed 2,685 prisoners, was not about migration at all; that article simply explained that the president had freed them “as part of an effort to free those who have not committed serious crimes or were being held unjustly.”

CNN reached out to Cheung again after Trump’s speech on Thursday and will update this item with any relevant comment.

Another inaccurate number about the border wall

Returning to one of his regular exaggerations, Trump claimed that “we built 571 miles of border wall” during his presidency.

Facts First: Trump’s “571 miles” claim is false, an even greater exaggeration than the inaccurate “561 miles” and “over 500 miles” claims he has made at other points of his campaign. An official report by US Customs and Border Protection, written two days after Trump left office and subsequently obtained by CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, said the total number built under Trump was 458 miles – including both wall built where no barriers had existed before and wall built to replace previous barriers. Trump has sometimes put the figure, more correctly, at “nearly 500 miles.”

Fifty-two of the 458 miles built under Trump was “primary” wall that was built in parts of the border where no barriers previously existed. The rest was 33 miles of “secondary” wall that was built in spots where no barriers previously existed, plus 373 miles of primary and secondary wall that was built to replace previous barriers the federal government says had become “dilapidated and/or outdated.”

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