Commentary: The great emergency hoax
It is hard to single out any single event in Donald Trump's presidency as the most untethered from truth and reality. Still, Friday's news conference, in which Trump tried to defend his end run around Congress based on a make-believe emergency at the southern border, was, to use the president's own words, a "big con game."
Trump's technique is to spin fiction as fact, secure in the knowledge that minds will reel as fact-checkers labor to deconstruct his ziggurat of falsehoods. So let's stick to one big, basic truth: There is no crisis at the southern border.
There is no crisis, and there is no justification to specifically and surgically contravene the will of Congress, which just weighed and dismissed Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a border wall, opting instead to grant him $1.375 billion.
The evidence that no emergency exists rests on the following:
Fact: Illegal crossings between ports of entry, as measured by Border Patrol arrests along the Mexican border, have plummeted since the turn of the century, falling to just below 400,000 in the most recent fiscal year, from more than 1.6 million in 2000. That nose-dive in illegal crossings coincides with better economic conditions in Mexico and a major increase in Border Patrol agents, technology and infrastructure along the southwest frontier.
Fact: Most illegal drugs that enter the country from Mexico are discovered by authorities at legal crossing points, not in remote areas where a wall would serve as a deterrent. That was the case, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for 90 percent of the heroin seized along the border. It's not a Democratic talking point. Vice President Mike Pence, in an opinion piece published last month in USA Today, noted that most seizures of illegal narcotics are "primarily at points of entry."
Fact: The number of illegal immigrants in the United States has been falling for more than a decade, and two-thirds of those who remain have been here for more than a decade. An estimated 10.7 million unauthorized migrants were in the country in 2016, about 1.5 million fewer than in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.
Moreover, among unauthorized migrants in fiscal 2017, about twice as many entered the United States legally - and overstayed their visas - as were apprehended at the southern border, according to government figures.
Fact: Trump, having conjured a nonexistent crisis, simply could not countenance his failure to persuade Congress to pay for his border wall. The source for this assertion is the president himself, who acknowledged in his news conference Friday that "I didn't need to do this" and "I just want to do it faster."
The emergency for Trump is purely political, impelled by expectations inflated by his campaign promises to build a border wall and force Mexico to pay. Having conflated a political crisis with a national one, Trump chooses to dodge, dissemble and lie. A self-respecting Congress would not let stand this manufactured emergency.
This column appears in Saturday's Washington Post.