President Donald Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated and even blatantly false statements about immigration and the situation at the southern border. And now the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that it has no records to back up extraordinary claims he made earlier this year about the cost and scope of illegal immigration.
In late January, the president sent a tweet with some very high — and questionable — numbers. After saying that “the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168,” with the cost from two days before at “$603,331,392,” Trump added that there were “at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens” in the United States. But no one could determine where he had found such specific figures, and American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any records of those numbers at DHS, the agency that Trump mentioned at the end of his tweet.
The department has now responded that it could find no records related to these figures, another indication that it may not be possible to substantiate the numbers. After Trump’s tweet, neither the White House nor DHS responded to the Washington Post’s or Politifact’s requests for an explanation, and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Face the Nation that day that he didn’t know the source of the claims. (Both the Post and Politifact offer explanations for other estimates of total cost and population which are much lower than Trump’s numbers.)
Of course, these unsubstantiated numbers aren’t the only untrue statements Trump has made to support his anti-immigration policies and rhetoric. We also filed a FOIA request for records related to public remarks by the president claiming that migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border have left behind “prayer rugs” and that Border Patrol officers frequently find women, bound and with tape over their mouths, being smuggled across the border. Experts questioned the story, and Vox reported on an email that a top Border Patrol official had sent to agents asking whether they had any information to back up the claim.
The same month as all of these claims, the administration made a number of misleading statements about the threat of terrorism at the southern border. This included then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeting out a press release titled “MYTH/FACT.” After we sent a FOIA request for communications about that press release, DHS responded that it could locate no such communications — a response far more questionable than the department’s inability to locate confirmation of Trump’s immigration numbers.