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AP FACT CHECK: Trump sees a border wall where none exists

December 12, 2018
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President Donald Trump speaks during a meets with Democratic leaders the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As if spotting a mirage in the Southwestern desert, President Donald Trump and his aides are seeing a wall standing along the Mexico border where none exists.

For months Trump has claimed that wall construction is underway and he’s brought the matter to the forefront again as the White House presses lawmakers to free up money for what he calls the “remaining sections.”

That’s like toeing the starting line and contemplating the remaining miles of a marathon.

In an argumentative Oval Office meeting Tuesday, Democratic leaders joined Trump in exaggerating the consequences of a partial government shutdown if a budget deal is not reached by Dec. 21.

A look at some of the claims as Washington searched for that deal, with a border wall at the center of contention:

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WHAT’S NEW?

TRUMP: “Tremendous amounts of wall have already been built.” — statement in meeting with the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer.

TRUMP: “People do not yet realize how much of the Wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built.” ″We have already built large new sections & fully renovated others, making them like new.” — tweets.

THE FACTS: Tremendous portions of the wall have not been built. Yes, some barrier renovation has happened, but little wall construction has been completed under Trump.

Congress allocated roughly $1.4 billion in the spring — a bit more than 5 percent of what Trump wanted — for border security and specified that the money was not to be used for construction of the prototype wall sections that stand near San Diego. Instead, the money is to strengthen or replace existing fencing with more secure fencing.

Altogether, Trump promised in the campaign that he’d build a 1,000-mile (1,600 kilometer) wall, as high as 40 feet or 12 meters (and have Mexico pay for it, which isn’t happening). If some 650 miles (1,050 km) of existing fencing are considered in the equation, that leaves him with about 350 miles (560 km) of wall to build.

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WHAT’S A WALL?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump adviser: “You just want to keep saying ‘wall, wall, wall.’ ... There are many ways to secure a border.” — to reporters asking Tuesday about Trump’s wall.

THE FACTS: Trump, of course, has been saying wall, wall, wall, since the 2015 Republican primaries, in a torrent of tweets and in countless rallies. Or, as he put it in Tuesday’s tweet, “the Wall.” He’s described the material, the dimensions and the beauty of it, and had prototype sections built, and they are of a wall, not a fence.

Federal officials — and Trump himself, at times — have tried to scale back expectations by noting, for example, that “there are places where you can’t have a physical wall,” as Conway put it Tuesday. “There are rivers. There’s brush.” But Trump already accounted for that when he promised 1,000 miles of wall to supplement another 1,000 miles of rivers and other natural barriers.

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” he tweeted in January, as if inviting voters to hold him to his literal promise.

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GOVERNMENT ISN’T CLOSING

TRUMP: “If we don’t get what we want one way or another ... I will shut down the government.” — in meeting with Pelosi and Schumer.

SCHUMER, asked after the meeting what happens if Trump doesn’t compromise: “He will get no wall and he will get a shutdown.”

PELOSI: A “Trump shutdown” could be his “holiday president to the American people.”

THE FACTS: Everyone’s exaggerating. The government is not at risk of closing if a deal is not reached by Dec. 21.

About three-quarters of the government will continue to have enough money to operate. But even a partial shutdown could be disruptive. Among the affected departments absent a deal: Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State, Justice.

Congress has approved continued financing of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, among other federal operations, and workers deemed essential would not be idled.

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TRUMP vs. TRUMP

TRUMP: “Our Southern Border is now Secure and will remain that way.” — tweet.

TRUMP: “We need border security. People are pouring into our country, including terrorists. We have terrorists. But we caught 10 terrorists. These are over the last very short period of time — 10. These are very serious people.” ″Drugs are pouring into our country. People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in, and in many — in many cases it’s contagious. They’re pouring into our country. We have to have border security.” — statements in Oval Office meeting.

THE FACTS: The fact is, Trump contradicted himself, declaring the border secure and insecure on the same day.

Moreover, the government has not announced the arrests of 10 terrorists. Trump’s statement appeared to be a clunky rendering of federal statistics showing that U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped an average of 10 people a day in the 2017 budget year who were trying to enter the U.S. from countries with suspected links to terrorism. That average applied to all points of entry, not just the southern border. And the primary points of entry for people coming from overseas are airports, not the two land borders.

As well Trump provided no evidence that people coming into the country are carrying contagious diseases at a higher rate than the U.S. population. He repeated the point at a bill signing, saying there’s a “tremendous medical problem coming in.” Medical screening is part of the process for vetting people who seek asylum.

As for the state of border security, U.S. arrests on the Mexican border jumped 78 percent in November from a year earlier to the highest level in Trump’s presidency. Increased arrests indicate that more people are trying to cross the border illegally.

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Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Matthew Daly and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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