AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s skewed claims on immigration, economy

Donald Trump
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is distorting the truth when it comes to the impact of his administration’s policy regarding separating children from their parents at the U.S. border.

He falsely suggests that a newly signed executive order will permanently solve the problem of separations by keeping families together when they are detained for illegally crossing the border and exaggerates the number of immigration judges available to process their claims while they’re held in custody. A growing backlog of claims could mean that people will be held longer in detention until their cases are heard.

Among other questionable statements this past week, Trump declares that total denuclearization in North Korea has already begun, repeats misleading claims about the Russia probe and doesn’t tell the full story about the creation of new U.S. jobs and rising wages.

A look at some of his statements and the reality behind them:

TRUMP: “And ultimately, we have to have a real border — not judges. Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire. Who are these people? When we vet a single federal judge, it goes through a big process. Now we’re hiring thousands and thousands. … And it got so crazy that all of these thousands — we now have thousands of judges — border judges — thousands and thousands.” — remarks Tuesday to the National Federation of Independent Business.

TRUMP: “We shouldn’t be hiring judges by the thousands, as our ridiculous immigration laws demand, we should be changing our laws, building the Wall, hire Border Agents and Ice and not let people come into our country based on the legal phrase they are told to say as their password.” — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: He’s incorrect about the U.S. having “thousands and thousands” of immigration judges and about thousands more judges being hired. The Justice Department’s immigration courts division has about 335 judges currently on staff nationwide, with the budget for 150 additional judges.

Dana Leigh Marks, past president of the National Association of Immigration Judges who also works in the Justice Department’s executive office for immigration review, said funding for immigration courts has increased modestly amid a growing backlog of cases. With a backlog of 700,000, each judge would have to take on more than 2,000 cases apiece to clear the docket.

The figures also don’t take into account a wave of expected retirements that would shrink the ranks of judges. A June 2017 Government Accountability Office report determined that 39 percent of immigration judges are now eligible for retirement. Congressional investigators blamed the mounting caseload in part on the slow hiring of immigration judges and said the federal government needed to do a better job to address staffing needs.

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TRUMP: “We’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem.” — remarks Wednesday at signing of order to halt his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.

THE FACTS: It doesn’t solve the problem.

Trump’s executive order will continue his “zero tolerance policy” of criminally prosecuting all adults caught crossing the border illegally, and will now seek to keep families together in detention instead of separating them while their legal cases are heard by the courts.

But a 1997 landmark settlement known as the Flores agreement that generally bars the government from keeping children in immigration detention for more than 20 days remains in place. Trump is seeking to have the settlement overturned, but his Justice Department says the 20-day policy remains in effect until Congress or the courts take action to change that.

That means without further action from Congress or the courts, the Trump administration could be forced to again separate the immigrant children from their parents in three weeks.

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TRUMP: “The big thing is, it will be a total denuclearization, which has already started taking place.” — remarks Thursday at Cabinet meeting.

THE FACTS: That’s not what his Pentagon chief, Jim Mattis, says. When asked by a reporter on Wednesday whether he had seen any sign that North Korea had begun steps toward denuclearization, Mattis replied, “I’m not aware of any. Obviously, we’re at the very front end of the process. Detailed negotiations have not begun.”

At a Singapore summit with Trump earlier this month, North Korea’s leader committed to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but no details were worked out.

In May, prior to the summit, North Korea demolished tunnels at its sole underground nuclear test site, although outsiders have not inspected the result. Its nuclear program has many other elements, including nuclear materials production facilities, nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles and missile launchers.

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TRUMP: “We have created more than 3.4 million new jobs since Election Day. 3.4 million. Think of what that means.” — remarks Tuesday to the National Federation of Independent Business.

THE FACTS: Well, one thing it means is that job creation has slowed a bit compared to its previous pace. Trump is right that U.S. companies have added 3.4 million jobs in the 18 months since his election, a healthy total. But in the previous 18 months, 3.7 million jobs were added. That’s not entirely surprising or a sign of a weakening economy — job gains typically decline as the unemployment rate falls and there are fewer people to hire. The unemployment rate is currently at an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. But Trump’s remarks suggest there has been a turnaround in job creation, when there hasn’t.

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TRUMP: “Wages for working people are finally, after 22 years, rising again in our country.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Wages, before adjusting for inflation, have ticked up in recent months. But so has inflation, which is offsetting those gains. In May, average hourly pay rose 2.7 percent from a year earlier. Yet inflation rose slightly more during that time: 2.8 percent. Household incomes rose at a solid pace in 2015 and 2016, according to the Census Bureau, partly because inflation was much lower during that time.

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TRUMP, on a health insurance option for small businesses and self-employed people: “You’re going to save massive amounts of money and have much better health care. It’s going to cost you much less. It’s going to be, I think, fantastic. And it’s very comprehensive. I will tell you, a lot of people — big, big percentages of this country — are going to be doing that.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Trump paints an overly rosy picture. It’s not projected that “big, big percentages” of people will benefit.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates a more modest impact of 4 million people who will be covered by the plans within five years but only some 400,000 — just 10 percent of those — who would have been uninsured. That’s compared to about 160 million who are covered by job-based insurance.

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TRUMP: “‘I can’t think of something more concerning than a law enforcement officer suggesting that their (sic) going to use their powers to affect an election!’ Inspector General Horowitz on what was going on with numerous people regarding my election. A Rigged Witch Hunt!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Trump’s statement is misleading. He suggests that findings of a Justice Department watchdog report by inspector general Michael Horowitz on the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation means that special counsel Robert Mueller’s separate Russia probe — which he often criticizes as a “witch hunt” — is “rigged.” The IG report determined that the FBI had made mistakes in the handling of the Clinton probe, which Horowitz did describe as “extremely serious.” But Horowitz also dismissed the notion that the probe had been “rigged,” saying that investigators did not uncover evidence that political bias had influenced the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton should not be prosecuted.

The IG report released last week also did not address questions of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the subject of the investigation led by Mueller, who was appointed last year to take over the FBI’s Russia probe after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.

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TRUMP: “We’ve eliminated record numbers of job-killing regulations … we’ve cut more regulation than any other president in the history of our country whether it’s four years, eight years or in one case 16 years, we’ve cut more regulations in 500 days than any president. Even our 16-year president.” — remarks Wednesday at Duluth rally.

THE FACTS: Trump gets his history wrong, repeating a claim that a U.S. president once served 16 years. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the country’s longest-serving president, died after serving 12 years in office from 1933 to 1945.

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TRUMP, on the return of remains from the Korean War: “We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 have been sent back.” — remarks Wednesday.

THE FACTS: No remains have been returned, although Pentagon officials say they are prepared to receive them. Although the Singapore declaration said this would happen immediately, U.S. officials have given no indication that North Korea has committed to any specific timetable for the return.

On Thursday, in remarks at a Cabinet meeting, Trump modified his claim, saying, “They’ve already sent back or are in the process of sending back the remains of our great heroes who died in North Korea during the war.”

Aside from uncertainty over when North Korea will return the remains it has collected over the years, it’s unclear whether all will be in a condition to permit their positive identification, or whether they all are even Americans. A number of allied soldiers who fought alongside the U.S. during the war also are missing.

Nearly 7,700 American service members are listed as unaccounted for from the Korean War, of which an estimated 5,300 were lost in North Korea.

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TRUMP: “There was a story two days ago, in a major newspaper, talking about people living in Canada, coming into the United States, and smuggling things back into Canada because the tariffs are so massive. The tariffs to get common items back into Canada are so high that they have to smuggle them in. They buy shoes, then they wear them. They scuff them up. … We’re treated horribly.” —remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: The president appears to be referring to a column in the New York Post about Canadians who buy shoes, jeans and outdoor goods in the United States and take them into Canada without paying duties or taxes. In some cases, the items aren’t available in Canada or were more expensive.

But most items made in the United States, including shoes, can be imported into Canada duty-free under NAFTA, an agreement that Trump has strongly criticized and is renegotiating with Canada and Mexico.

For its part, the United States imposes some of its highest tariffs on shoe imports. Duties on footwear average nearly 11 percent but for some products can reach nearly 68 percent, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Yet even with the higher costs imposed by tariffs, roughly 95 percent of shoes in the United States are imported from countries like China, Vietnam and Italy, the ITC says.

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TRUMP: “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” — tweet Monday.

TRUMP: “Crime in Germany is up 10% plus (officials do not want to report these crimes) since migrants were accepted.” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Crime in Germany is not “way up.” It’s actually dropped to the lowest in a quarter century.

According to official crime statistics released last month, crime in Germany dropped nearly 10 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year. Police recorded a total number of 5.8 million crimes last year, compared with 6.4 million cases in 2016. It was the lowest figure since 1992.

While violent crime declined, the number of homicides increased 3.2 percent last year. Several high-profile killings in which migrants were suspects made national headlines in recent years, even as others where the suspects were German received less attention.

Trump cites no examples of how migrants have “strongly and violently” changed European culture, except to make his erroneous claim about crime in Germany.

Although there are noticeably more recent arrivals in the cities, there’s little sign of German culture being eroded by the influx of more than 1 million asylum seekers since 2015, primarily from Muslim countries.

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Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington, Elliot Spagat in San Diego, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

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