President Donald Trump will take eight minutes of your time this evening to talk about the slowly unfolding crisis at the southern border in Washington, D.C., as the government shutdown concludes its 18th day without any end in sight.
Will Trump declare the lack of a physical barrier along the United States' border with Mexico to be a national emergency? Some of his top advisers reportedly say that's not the plan—but, well, in this administration that only means so much. It's also possible that Trump could use the occasion to flog the necessity of comprehensive immigration reform, boosting the chances that aide de camp Jared Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence can strike a deal they've reportedly been working to reach with Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Regardless of what Trump says tonight, though, his track record suggests there will be exaggerations aplenty—and probably a few outright lies—about his plans for a wall, how much it will cost, whether it will stop illegal immigrants from entering the country, and just how many of them there are here in the first place.
In an attempt to keep you ahead of the curve, here are a few important numbers—both real and fake—to know before Trump opens his yap tonight.
$5.7 billion. This is the most important number. It's the amount of money the White House is currently asking Congress to appropriate for the construction of a "steel barrier" along the border. The price tag for Trump's wall has changed quite a bit over the past three years. When running for president, of course, Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. Last year, the White House sought $25 billion, then dropped the ask to $18 billion and eventually to $15 billion. Taxpayers should be thankful that Trump likely negotiated himself out of a much higher spending total, since Congress was willing to give Trump the full $25 billion last year in exchange for immigration reform—but the dealmaker-in-chief dismissed that plan as "massive amnesty."
234 miles. That is the length of the steel barrier that the White House says could be built with $5.7 billion. That's roughly 12 percent of the 1,950 mile land border with Mexico.
$24.3 million. This is the per-mile cost of the proposed steel barrier. Sure, that's a lot less expensive, per mile, than building a subway in Manhattan, but it's still pretty expensive. For comparison's sake, it costs about $1.25 million to repair a mile of four-lane highway (remember Infrastructure Week?). For an even better comparison, a four-mile stretch of border wall recently built in El Paso, Texas, cost $22 million total. Trump's wall isn't just coming up short, but it appears to be over cost already.
$59.8 billion. This is the estimated price tag for The Wall, according to Alex Nowrasteh, senior immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute. Nowrasteh reached that figure by allowing for a 50 percent cost overrun (a conservative estimate; the average government infrastructure project runs 3.3 times over-budget), and by assuming the Trump administration would eventually want to construct a barrier along the remaining 1,637 miles of Mexican border not covered by pedestrian fencing. This does not include maintenance costs.
6. That is the number of non-U.S. citizens listed on terror watch lists who were apprehended at the southern border since October of last year. Trump has repeatedly, and falsely, claimed that nearly 4,000 terrorists have been caught coming across the border in the past year. Almost all of these so-called "special interest aliens," which includes plenty of people who are not suspected terrorists, were caught at airports and various other points of entry. For more on the Trump administration's misleading rhetoric about terrorists pouring over the border from Mexico, read Matt Welch's piece here.
235,000. This is the number of criminals that Trump has claimed have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the past two years. It's not exactly clear where this number is coming from—and it's possible Trump is pulling it out of thin air. It wouldn't be the first time that he's done that. As The Washington Post's Salvador Rizzo explained yesterday, it seems like Trump is muddling together several different totals that can't really be mixed together accurately. "If it's a tally of ICE administrative arrests, he's omitting that many of those are solely for immigration violations and not the dangerous crimes he portrays," Rizzo observed. "Looking at charges and convictions does not give a total for 'criminals,' because one individual may be facing multiple charges, as ICE notes in its yearly reports." And, of course, just because someone is arrested does not make that person a criminal.
67 percent. That is the estimated number of illegal immigrants who entered the United States legally and became illegal by overstaying their visas, according to data from the Center for Migration Studies. "A wall not only will do nothing to stop these people from entering, but it may actually incentivize more people to stick around without authorization," wrote David Bier, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, in a 2018 Reason cover story.
2,000. That is the number of illegal border-crossers that Trump has claimed the Border Patrol apprehends every day "at a minimum." During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, the Border Patrol reported 396,579 apprehensions. That's a little over 1,000 per day, but it includes arrests made at airports and border checkpoints—not exclusively those caught trying to sneak over the border, as Trump has tried to imply.
1.6 million. This is the number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the southern border in 2000. That's four times as many as were caught last year, but somehow this counts as a crisis now?