Fact Check: Trump gives incomplete border wall update, misstates Biden's immigration plan

ABC News fact checks the president's immigration policy claims.

August 28, 2020, 3:22 PM

President Donald Trump made several claims about U.S. immigration policy during his Republican National Convention speech Thursday night, continuing his long-time focus on the southern border. He also dived into exaggerations about Joe Biden’s immigration proposals.

Below ABC News fact checks what Trump said about the border wall and immigration during his acceptance speech at the RNC.

Trump says US has built 300 miles of border wall

"We have already built 300 miles of border wall -- and we are adding 10 new miles every single week," Trump said Thursday night. "The Wall will soon be complete, and it is working beyond our wildest expectations."

Trump recently traveled to Yuma, Arizona, where he also touted the completion of the 300 miles. But it’s far from a complete fortification of the southwestern boundary line.

The Trump administration has overseen the construction of just over six miles of barrier where none previously existed, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while the vast majority of those 300 miles Trump is referencing have replaced existing barriers with towering steel structures.

An additional 25 miles of barriers where none previously existed are layered farther from the borderline as a “secondary” layer, according to USACE.

Last month, a federal watchdog found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not have a “sound, well-documented” approach to planning border wall construction and failed to consider alternative measures that could have provided better security.

The Office of Inspector General review started when CBP was in the middle of determining how much the border wall might cost. Homeland Security officials have characterized the wall as the base-line measure from which they plan to attach additional surveillance technology while Trump himself has long touted the physical barrier as the key to stopping crime in the southwest.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP

But the report found CBP relied on just a single year’s worth of illegal border activity data to determine where extra security measures were most needed instead of relying on multi-year trends that could have painted a more fulsome picture of security needs.

The Department of Homeland Security rejected the OIG recommendations to start a new review process. Jim Crumpacker, a DHS official responsible for responding to oversight findings, said the report included “significantly flawed and inaccurate factual representations” and said the watchdog office did not properly define what it means to have “operational control” over the border.

While Trump continues to champion the wall as a success, smugglers have reportedly cut through new sections in San Diego. Commercially available power tools were used to cut through the steel beams last year, according to the Washington Post, allowing them to be pushed aside far enough for a person to fit through.

Separately, CBP recently put out a call for ideas to construct a floating “buoy barrier” to be deployed in the center of the Rio Grande or to extend the border fortifications into the Pacific Ocean.

Trump’s barriers are only the physical representations of immigration limits. The administration has fought to tighten entry restrictions on many types of people traveling from abroad, including those seeking green cards, temporary professional work visas and low-income migrants.

Trump says Biden will stop deportations of undocumented immigrants, implement 'catch and release'

“The Biden/Bernie manifesto calls for suspending all removal of illegal aliens, implementing nationwide catch and release, and providing illegal aliens with free taxpayer-funded lawyers," Trump said during his speech.

Trump is taking broad leaps and exaggerating Biden’s position when he talks about ending deportations and broadly releasing immigration offenders. However, his claims about the desire to boost funds for immigration lawyers ring partially true.

In a recent blog post on Biden’s “Agenda for the Latino Community,” one of the candidate’s expressed initiatives is to “establish funding to provide legal representation” for immigrants. Federal immigration courts are an administration adjudication arm of the executive branch where immigrant defendants facing deportation are not guaranteed a lawyer.

Biden’s plan involves bolstering the reach of legal aid groups, which work to support those attempting to make a case for humanitarian relief and refuge. Currently, much of the support for migrant legal aid comes through networks of nonprofit organizations with some government grant funding as well as pro-bono lawyers from private firms.

The Biden plan also calls for an expansion of paths to legal immigration that, in theory, would require more access to legal services. Trump seems to imply a negative impact of this but was not more specific.

“Humanitarian needs are best met through a network of organizations, such as faith-based shelters, non-governmental aid organizations, legal nonprofits, and refugee assistance agencies working together,” the Biden plan reads.

While nothing in Biden’s plan demands summary “catch and release,” as Trump describes, the Democratic candidate plans to further explore alternatives to the civil detention centers run through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some of these programs are currently in place and involve ankle-monitored tracking when detainees are released on parole.

Biden’s immigration plan does not demand an end to deportations and it explicitly notes the former vice president’s commitment to “prioritizing” removals of individuals found to be a threat to national security.

As written in the Biden plan to reverse Trump’s immigration changes, “… the Obama-Biden administration took steps to prioritize enforcement resources on removing threats to national security and public safety, not families.”

Trump and his top allies have routinely framed their immigration approach as a battle against Democrats and “open borders” that would allow less desirable or unskilled people from overseas to move to the country.

In contrast to Trump’s own agenda and the characterization of his opponent’s, the Democratic Party Platform outlines steps to increase immigration legally and permanently for some.

“Our family, humanitarian, and diversity pathways have contributed immeasurably to the vibrancy and productivity of American society and should continue to be the centerpiece of our immigration system,” the platform statement reads.

Trump says special interests tried to stop 'pro-American immigration' policy

“In perhaps no area did the Washington special interests try harder to stop us than on my policy of pro-American immigration," Trump said Thursday night.

It’s difficult to understand what “special interests” Trump’s talking about here. The primary challengers to his immigration policies are the human rights advocates and immigration lawyers working on behalf of the people they assist, many of whom are pursuing asylum.

These groups have challenged Trump’s attempts to shape the demographic profile of American immigrants into one that disproportionately favors highly educated and wealthy visa applicants.

The administration’s implementation of “extreme vetting” measures, expansions of the list of public benefits that could disqualify green card applicants and direct public pressure on states and localities to enforce federal law have created new hurdles for lower-income immigrant groups.

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