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NUMBER OF BORDER PERSONNEL UP SHARPLY SINCE 1997

The statement

"Today, we have more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history."

Barack Obama, Thursday in a speech

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The ruling: MOSTLY TRUE

President Barack Obama gave a lengthy speech on the need for immigration reform Thursday.

Government needs to secure the borders, reduce red tape and backlogs for legal immigrants, he said. Businesses need to obey laws that forbid the hiring of illegal immigrants. And illegal immigrants need to register with the government, pay taxes and fines, and learn English.

Regarding security, he said: "Government has a threshold responsibility to secure our borders. ... Today, we have more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history.'' And he repeated it for emphasis.

Just because someone repeats something doesn't mean it's true, so we decided to check it out.

Accurate records don't go back very far, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said about 21,000 agents monitor the borders. Most, but not all, are along the Southwest border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of DHS, said 17,057 agents are assigned there, up dramatically from 6,315 in 1997.

We checked in with groups that favor low levels of immigration to see what they thought. They said Obama's fact was accurate, but President George W. Bush added many of the agents.

Two more issues needed to be addressed. Had U.S. "boots on the ground'' been higher during military actions along the border in 1846 or 1916? And should those troop actions be counted?

The Mexican-American War happened after the United States annexed Texas in 1845, so it was more of a battle to define the border than defend it.

But the Mexican Expedition of 1916 occurred when Pancho Villa launched a surprise attack inside the United States. President Woodrow Wilson sent 75,000 or more troops to the border. The historians we asked thought the situation is not comparable, however, because it didn't involve trying to interdict a massive influx of individuals.

Obama's claim is sound in the context of today's debate. Still, there have been times when the United States sent troops to the border, far more than the number of people that guard the border today. We want to allow for that complicated history, so we rate Obama's claim Mostly True.

Edited for print. For more, go to PolitiFact.com.

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