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Trump's angry tweets about Mexico? More fiction than fact

Trump's angry tweets about Mexico? More fiction than fact
President Trump on a tour of border wall prototypes in San Diego last month. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump unleashed a flurry of tweets Sunday and Monday attacking Mexico on several fronts, including immigration and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump tweeted on those topics seven times, complaining about a "massive inflow of drugs and people" at the border and claiming Mexico wasn't doing enough to halt the flow of migrants heading to the United States. We fact-checked those and other Trump claims to see what was true and what was false.

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Claim: Mexico is doing ‘nothing’ to stop migrants from crossing Mexico’s southern border

False. While he was in office, former President Obama quietly pressured Mexico to step up immigration enforcement along its southern border. In response, in 2014 the Mexican government announced a new "Southern Border Program" aimed at increasing apprehensions and deportations of migrants from Central America and other parts of the world destined for the U.S.

The U.S. trained Mexican immigration agents and donated surveillance towers and biometric data equipment. Today, Mexico's southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco resemble border communities of Arizona and South Texas, with swarms of Mexican federal agents, militarized highway checkpoints and raids on hotels frequented by migrants.

Mexican authorities said they apprehended more than 82,000 Central Americans last year. Between October 2014 and May 2015, Mexico detained more Central American migrants than the U.S. Border Patrol.

Human rights observers say increased immigration enforcement in Mexico has pushed migrants to take riskier routes and do business with powerful drug cartels that have entered the business of human trafficking. Migrant rights organizations in southern Mexico have also documented rights abuses by Mexican police and immigration agents, including incidents of agents, who are supposed to be unarmed, using pellet guns and electroshock weapons on migrants.

In response to Trump's tweets, Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray fired off his own Twitter missive Sunday.

"Every day Mexico and the U.S. work together on migration throughout the region," Videgaray said. "Facts clearly reflect this."

Claim: ‘Caravans’ of migrants are heading to the U.S. border, ‘trying to take advantage of DACA’

Partly true.

There is indeed a large caravan of more than 1,000 Central American migrants currently crossing Mexico, headed for the U.S. border. The march was organized by a migrant advocacy group called Pueblos Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders) and was designed to draw awareness to the plight of migrants fleeing violent countries, and the dangers they face on the journey north.

Conservative groups and media outlets are angry about the caravan, saying it flouts Mexican and U.S. immigration laws. They point to reports that border patrol agents on Mexico's southern border, apparently overwhelmed by the size of the caravan, let it enter Mexico without questions.

But Trump is wrong in stating that "these big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA."

For one, a large number of the migrants traveling in the caravan are fleeing violence and plan to ask for asylum at the U.S. border. One migrant traveling with the caravan, a Honduran mother named Karen, told BuzzFeed News that she and her children were forced to leave.

"The crime rate is horrible; you can't live there," she said. "There were deaths, mobs, robbed homes. Adults and kids were beaten up."

Migrant advocates say many of those traveling with the caravan are legally protected asylum seekers and could ultimately win legal status in the U.S. They point out that none of those in the caravan would be eligible for DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that extended deportation protections to a small number of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Migrants had to meet strict criteria to qualify for DACA; among other requirements, they had to prove that they had resided in the U.S. for at least five years.

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In another tweet about DACA on Monday, Trump claimed that the program "is dead because the Democrats didn't care or act." That's questionable, at best. Trump ordered an end to DACA in September, calling on Congress to pass a replacement. He has since rejected at least four bipartisan immigration bills that would have protected DACA recipients.

Claim: ‘Mexico is making a fortune on NAFTA’

This claim is … complicated. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, eliminated most tariffs across the continent and resulted in an exodus of manufacturing jobs from the U.S. to Mexico.

In Trump's view, NAFTA enriched Mexico at the expense of middle America. Many economists have a much more nuanced view.

None of them dispute that the loss of factory jobs hurt parts of the U.S., especially the Rust Belt. But many experts say rapidly evolving technology, along with competition with China, is more to blame than NAFTA.

South of the border, free trade has helped modernize Mexico by creating millions of jobs, boosting investment flow and helping to diversify the country's manufacturing sector. Mexican workers now help build a range of products that include Whirlpool washing machines and Bombardier jets.

But the Mexican government has kept minimum wages extremely low, so that Mexico remains attractive to manufacturers who might otherwise be tempted to locate in China or elsewhere in Asia. Since NAFTA went into effect, there has been no change in the number of Mexicans living below the poverty line — more than half.

Claim: A border wall will stem a ‘massive inflow of drugs and people’

This claim is disputable.

Trump has frequently claimed in the past that historic numbers of migrants are crossing into the U.S. illegally, but that's not true.

Overall, migration across the U.S. southern border is down from peak levels, and the number of immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status is falling.

What is changing is the demographics of those illegally crossing the border. Central Americans are increasingly making the trek, fleeing violence and political instability in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador. Meanwhile, the number of Mexicans making the trek has fallen sharply. These days, so few Mexicans are making the journey and such large numbers of them are returning home, that net migration from Mexico is at zero.

Trump thinks a border wall is the best way to stop illegal migration and the flow of drugs — especially opioids — that have created an epidemic of addiction in parts of the country. But some studies have shown that border enforcement doesn't actually stop migration, it just encourages migrants to take riskier routes. The cost of being smuggled into the U.S. was about $500 in the 1990s. Now, cartels charge up to $8,000. After the construction of a barrier along about 650 miles of the border, migrant deaths rose.

Whether or not a longer border wall would reduce the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S. is also debatable. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the majority of drugs enter the U.S. through legal ports of entry, with traffickers hiding them in passenger cars or tractor trailers. Even drug tunnels might not be stopped by a border wall, since they are built up to 70 feet underground, and the foundation of the border wall would likely be less than 10 feet deep.

Organized crime expert Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote in a Brookings Institution report that the high costs of a wall greatly outweigh any potential benefits. "No matter how tall and thick a wall will be," she wrote, "illicit flows will cross."

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Twitter: @katelinthicum

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