WASHINGTON (CN) – In an address from the Oval Office Tuesday night, President Donald Trump continued to ramp up rhetoric around what the administration deems is a “crisis” occurring at the southern border of the United States.
This premise of a border crisis led to the government shutdown last month. Partial funding was allotted last week for the Department of Homeland Security, but as of Tuesday night, the shutdown reached its 18th day in effect.
The Trump administration’s shutdown is the second longest closure in U.S. history, according to the Associated Press.
Some 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed and 420,000 have worked without pay for the duration as the president has refused to negotiate with Congress on his request of $5.7 billion to fund what will amount to just 250 additional miles of barrier along the southern border.
Making his plea for funding, the president repeated claims he has made regularly since the shutdown began: a “crisis” at the border is unfolding.
“Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border,” Trump said.
The president’s claim over the flow of heroin coming into the U.S. was largely correct.
But last month, as the bipartisan Congressional Research Service noted in its own updated study on heroin trafficking, drug traffickers transport the majority of their goods in trucks and cars. According to the service’s report, drug traffickers “transport the bulk of their goods over the Southwest Border through points of entry using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers.”
“Thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who have entered the country illegally. This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and the soul,” Trump said. “Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the U.S. The children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes.”
While the statement acknowledges a huge increase in children being brought to the border, the address failed to touch on the impact of the administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy on those children or the cause for their arrival.
Economic, humanitarian and political conditions have deteriorated in neighboring nations dotting Central America, triggering a significant increase of family crossings into the U.S.
In a 2017 report, the Office of Immigration Statistics found that between 2003 and 2008, families attempting to cross the border comprised just 2 percent of all those who attempted entry.
But in November 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a significant change: families now make up more than half of all apprehensions. Since November, over 25,000 families have been detained or have turned themselves in at the border.
There was also no mention of the stress immigration detention facilities find themselves under; several facilities are overcrowded and provisions for medical care are strained.
In December, two children, Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, died in CBP custody, leading to questions around the capability of federal agencies to handle the influx.
Overcrowding and understaffing was so severe at detention centers in Texas last month, ICE decided to abruptly release immigrant families from their custody by merely dropping people off at bus stations in El Paso.
A member of the president’s own administration addressed the strain in December.
During testimony on family detention to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Custom and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told lawmakers the nation’s immigration infrastructure was “not compatible with reality of who is getting apprehended.”
Immediately following the president's address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered an address rebutting the speech.
“President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must reopen the government,” Pelosi said.
During the address, the president stuck with blaming Democrats for the impasse, at one point saying it was “immoral” for politicians to “do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized.”
Only last week, Pelosi referred to border wall funding as “an immorality.”
For his part, Schumer urged action.
“Separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security. There is bipartisan legislation – supported by Democrats and Republicans – to reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue,” Schumer said.
According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the president will travel to Texas on Thursday where he will make another appeal for border wall funding.