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PunditFact: Fact-checking claims about the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border

The influx of unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border is pushing security officials to their limits and putting pressure on President Barack Obama and Congress to take some sort of action.

Talking heads have been scrambling both to provide context for this surge of children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and to assign blame.

PunditFact has been fact-checking their claims, and we've found that there's more than a little misinformation going around. Here's a summary of some of our recent work.

Obama's 2012 policy

One of the consistent talking points among conservatives discussing the thousands of kids arriving at the U.S. border is that President Barack Obama's 2012 immigration policy is responsible.

The policy allowed certain young people without legal status to apply for a two-year deferral of any removal proceedings. Though it does not apply to people just now crossing the border, conservatives say it gave children and their families the idea that they could try. And so they have.

"This president and his administration knew what was happening with the issuance of the executive order in 2012, which created these children coming across," Fox Business News host Lou Dobbs said recently.

There is a problem with the claim, however. The dates don't line up as neatly as people are letting on.

Last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service published month-by-month statistics of children being processed at the border. What the data shows is that the number of children being processed at the border was steady between October 2008 and January 2012. The numbers started to rise between January and April 2012, then plateaued until January 2013. From there, the number of children coming to the border grew exponentially.

Why is that important?

Based on Congressional Research Service data, the rate of arrivals nearly doubled before Obama announced his new policy. While this doesn't mean Obama's policy played no role in the current flood of children arriving at the border, the policy itself didn't create the current problem.

Dobbs' claim rates Mostly False.

Violence back home

ABC pundit Cokie Roberts said the violence these children are leaving behind is astounding.

"I heard a report this week that in New York, your chances of getting murdered are 1 in 25,000," Roberts said on This Week. "In Honduras, it's 1 in 14. You can't send children back home to that."

Roberts is right that Honduras is more dangerous than New York, but on the specific numbers she offered, she's wrong.

The claim rates Half True.

The 1 in 25,000 figure for New York represents the chances that an individual is murdered in a year, whereas the 1 in 14 figure for Honduras represents the chances that an individual is murdered over the course of a lifetime. (Both of these are also slight miscalculations.)

Apples to apples: Over a lifetime, the chances of being murdered in Honduras are 1 in 15, compared to 1 in 250 in New York.

When they get here

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly worried about the strain these children and others coming to the Untied States will put on the government.

"Our welfare system is strained to the limit now, so is the public school system," O'Reilly said. "About 50 percent of them lack a high school education. And more than 50 percent of immigrants from (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) use at least one major welfare program once they get here."

O'Reilly's point about the use of welfare is correct when defining things by households and by including a broad definition of "welfare" that includes school lunch programs.

But looking at individuals would produce a different, lower percentage. Also, there is a wide disparity depending on what particular welfare program you're looking at.

O'Reilly's statement rates Mostly True.

Where they end up

Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan says California's transformation from red to blue is thanks to an influx of immigrants and should serve as a cautionary tale for the national conservative agenda.

On The Sean Hannity Show, Buchanan noted that California Republicans are now outnumbered 2 to 1 in the state Legislature, 2 to 1 in Congress, and that no Republican holds a statewide office.

"Right now, one third of all the illegal aliens go to California. Take a look at California politically, which Richard Nixon carried five times and Ronald Reagan carried in four landslides," he said. "And when the country looks like California demographically, it's going to look like California politically."

There's no good data on where unauthorized immigrants are going after crossing the border, but we can estimate where they live.

According to estimates by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Research Center, anywhere from 21 to 25 percent of unauthorized immigrants live in California. Texas comes in second at around 16 percent.

So Buchanan is in the ballpark, but a bit high.

On politics, it's hard to see a direct correlation simply between the number of unauthorized immigrants and election results.

California voted Republican for president from 1968-88 and has voted Democrat from 1992-2012. Of the state's last six elected governors, three were Republican and three were Democrat.

Balancing that all out, Buchanan's claim rates Half True.

Staff writers Katie Sanders and Linda Qiu contributed to this story. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.

PunditFact: Fact-checking claims about the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border 07/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2014 2:55pm]
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