From the Fact Check Desk: President Obama’s Speech on Immigration Reform

From Jake Tapper ( @jaketapper ) and Jason Ryan ( @jasonryanabc )

President Obama in El Paso today tried to make the case that his administration is doing everything immigration reform opponents have said needed to be done before immigration reform could be tackled.

The president said “we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform. Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat. They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.”

That’s politics, indeed. Let’s fact-check some of the president’s claims.

1) “They wanted a fence,” the president said. “Well, that fence is now basically complete.”

The president is referring to the fact that 649 miles of fencing have been completed out of 652 miles of fencing mandated by Congress. (Out of 1,969 miles of border with Mexico.) That is factually correct, according to a February 2011 study of the border by the Government Accountability Office .

But that standard ignores calls some on the border have made for the fence to be made more impenetrable. Some have called for “double-fencing”; only approximately 30 miles of fence are so reinforced, in San Diego, California and Yuma, Arizona.

More to the point, the border remains quite porous.

The Border Patrol, per the GAO study, has achieved “varying levels of operational control for 873 of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles at the end of fiscal year 2010…GAO’s preliminary analysis of the 873 border miles under operational control in 2010 showed that about 129 miles (15 percent) were classified as ‘controlled’ and the remaining 85 percent were classified as ‘managed.’”

2) “The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build up that began under President Bush and that we have continued,” the president said.

It’s an unusual metric for the president to compare the number of Border Patrol agents now to the number there were four years before his presidency began, but what the president says is accurate.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 increased the number of Border Patrol agents by 2,000 annually from FY2006, when there were a total of 12,349 Border Patrol agents, to FY2010, when there were 20,511.

A more apt comparison might be to look at how many Border Patrol agents there were when President Obama took office and compare that to now.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of October 2008, there were 17,499 Border Patrol agents in total – including those at the Canadian border.

As of April 9, 2011, there were 20,745 Border Patrol agents nationwide – an increase of approximately 3,246 since President Obama took office.

And what about those agents on the US-Mexican border? Surely that’s what many in the audience thought the president was talking about as he stood on the border and talked about border agents – not those in Buffalo, NY.

As of October 2008, there were 15,442 Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border. There are currently 17,659 Border Patrol Agents between the more than 160 ports of entry on the Southwest border.

That’s an increase of 2,217 Border Patrol agents on the Southwest border in two years.

The administration has made it a goal to have 18,000 Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border by October 2011.

The office of Customs and Border Protection notes there are also 6,540 CBP officers at those ports of entry on the Southwest border.

3) “We are deporting those who are here illegally. Now, I know that the increase in deportations has been a source of controversy. But I want to emphasize: we are not doing this haphazardly; we are focusing our limited resources on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income. As a result, we increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent.”

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in the fiscal year ending in October 2008, there had been 369,221 deportations. Of those, 114,415 had been of criminals and 254,806 of “non-criminals” – meaning those in the country illegally but otherwise not committing a crime.

As of the end of the fiscal year ending in October 2010, the number of total deportations had increased to 392,862. Of those, criminal deportations had increased to 195,772 – an increase of 71.1%. “Non-criminal” deportations decreased to 197,090.

-Jake Tapper and Jason Ryan

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