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Fact check: What did Biden and Trump claim about immigration in the debate?

Guests at the Old Town Pour House watch a debate between President Biden and former President Donald Trump on Thursday in Chicago. The debate is the first of two scheduled between the two candidates before the November election.
Scott Olson
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Getty Images
Guests at the Old Town Pour House watch a debate between President Biden and former President Donald Trump on Thursday in Chicago. The debate is the first of two scheduled between the two candidates before the November election.

Without a doubt, the issue of immigration is playing a big role in the 2024 presidential campaign — and it was certainly one of the main points of contention between President Biden and former President Donald Trump in Thursday night's debate.

Trump accused Biden of allowing millions of unauthorized migrants to enter the country. He also said many falsehoods about the current state of immigration.

Meanwhile, Biden attempted to explain what he would do to continue lowering the number of migrants crossing illegally, despite that number hitting an all-time high during his tenure.

Here are three fact checks of claims made during the debate related to immigration:

Claim 1: The U.S. Southern border is open

This is a talking point used often by Republicans when referring to Biden’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“He decided to open up our border, open up our country,” Trump said of Biden during the debate.

But this is not accurate.

It is true that under Biden, unauthorized crossings hit a record high, oftentimes overwhelming certain border communities and straining its resources.

But the border is not "open." In fact, it is arguably more reinforced than ever.

The federal government has added more sections of the U.S. Southern border walls, and there have been more military operations at the border.

The administration has also increased the number of expedited removals.

Biden has tried to work with Congress to overhaul the immigration system, but a majority of Republican lawmakers have not moved forward with the Senate $118 billion border agreement.

Claim 2: Biden’s executive order has reduced illegal migration

Unable to act more broadly without Congress, Biden has implemented a handful of policies aimed at reducing the number of crossings, and asylum claims, at the Southern border over the last few months.

One June 4, Biden issued executive actions severely restricted asylum claims between ports of entry, blocking most unauthorized migrants from attaining asylum.

The Biden administration has said that since the policy went into effect, there has been a 40% decrease in unauthorized crossings.

But these types of dips are not surprising. Historically, these policies deter migrants for a short period of time, but those numbers tend to go up, according to an analysis by the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America.

Migrants tend to go into a wait-and-see period before crossing again. Many migrants who have talked to NPR in Mexican border communitieshave said they will attempt to cross, despite the policies.

Of note: Biden’s asylum restrictions mirror those implemented by Trump, but that Biden lifted in 2021.

Claim 3: Migrants crossing are committing crimes

There is no doubt that some migrants who have crossed the border without authorization have committed crimes. This has been something Republicans have been hammering on recently, after two Venezuelan immigrants were charged with capital murder for killing a 12-year-old girl.

But data shows a vast majority of immigrants do not commit crimes.

In fact, a study by Northwestern University examining a 150-year period found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S.

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Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.

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