But senior Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have relied on misleading statements to make their case. Trump, who is also prone to repeating debunked talking points about immigration, is set to deliver his Oval Office address about the topic on Tuesday night.
Here’s a breakdown of the most recent misleading claims, the half-truths and everything in between, along with the fuller picture, based on official statistics and reporting from CNN.
In each of his three television interviews Tuesday morning, Pence led his argument that there is a crisis on the southern border with one figure: 60,000.
Pence’s use of that statistic is misleading at best because it gives the impression that 60,000 people are caught trying to sneak in every month. He is lumping in people who presented themselves at ports of entry in addition to those who were apprehended illegally crossing the border.
Of the 62,456 individuals who were apprehended or deemed inadmissible at the southern border in November, 10,600 presented themselves at legal US ports of entry and were ultimately deemed inadmissible. Same goes for the 60,722 figure for October. It includes 9,771 who showed up at legal US ports of entry and were subsequently deemed inadmissible into the country.
The Trump administration has repeatedly pointed to these figures, the most recent available, to back up its claim that there is a border crisis. But while border apprehensions increased in those months, they didn’t surge in an unprecedented fashion as the administration is claiming.
Even including the number of individuals denied admission at designated ports of entry, there were comparable increases and decreases in previous years. The numbers surged to similar levels in late 2016 only to drop again in early 2017, according to CBP numbers.
Terrorists entering the US from Mexico
For months, Trump has raised the specter of “terrorists” crossing the US-Mexico border. He brought this up repeatedly before the 2018 midterms when a caravan of migrants, primarily from impoverished Central American countries, marched through Mexico toward the US border.
Nielsen tried to massage the narrative with a series of tweets on Monday: “The number of terror-watchlisted encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years. The exact number is sensitive and details about these cases are extremely sensitive.”
Additionally, a State Department report from 2016 said there was “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico” to sneak into the United States.
Bergen noted that the most notorious case of a terrorist apprehended at the US border is the “millennium plot,” when an Algerian citizen with ties to al-Qaeda was arrested at the US-Canada border in December 1999. He hoped to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.
‘Special interest alien’ semantics
“They either have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism,” Nielsen said, describing the “special interest alien” term.
That doesn’t mean, however, that all “special interest aliens” are terrorists, according to DHS.
Drugs coming across the border
The majority of hard narcotics seized by Customs and Border Protection come through ports of entry either in packages, cargo or with people who attempt to enter the US legally. The only drug that is smuggled in higher numbers between legal entry points is marijuana, according to information from Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A closer look at the numbers shows that in fiscal year 2018, Customs and Border Protection seized 67,292 pounds of methamphetamine at legal ports of entry, compared with 10,382 pounds by Border Patrol agents in between ports, based on available data.
CNN’s Betsy Klein and Pamela Brown contributed to this report.