Trump Is Flat-Out Lying About Having the ‘Most Secure Border in History’ as President

Estimated read time 6 min read

Donald Trump and the Republican Party head into the 2024 election running essentially as single-issue candidates, and that issue is the border and “migrant crime.”

With economic growth, the stock market, unemployment, wage growth, and inflation all trending positively for many months, they have pushed all their chips into the middle of the table on the border issue. The central premise of their argument is that Trump had the “most secure border in history,” where everyone was kept out—and the few who were able to evade Border Patrol officers were quickly deported. That premise is a lie.

Before getting into the numbers, we can start with Trump’s own words about the border when he was president, which stands in sharp contrast with the mythology that he peddles now. Trump has attempted to rewrite the history of his administration in a number of areas in order to blame Joe Biden—the Afghanistan withdrawal, the pandemic, the economy, the 2020 election, and Jan 6.

But there is perhaps no topic where he lies more comprehensively than the border.

What makes the problem even worse is that, while Democrats are always eager and willing to push back on the other topics, they are generally unwilling to discuss the border—even to refute Trump’s lies. I wrote an article about that called, “Democrats Don’t Want to Talk About the Border, So I’ll Start.”

In a Jan. 8, 2019, address to the nation, Trump described the border under his watch as a “crisis,” and pleaded with Congress to pass most of the exact same proposals that were in the bipartisan border bill in the Senate that was negotiated by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) with Democrats earlier this year, but ultimately rejected by Republicans.

Trump recognized then that he did not have the legal authority or the funding resources to secure the border and dramatically increase deportations and was asking Congress to pass his border proposals. However, 2024 candidate Trump demanded that Speaker Mike Johnson and Republicans in Congress now oppose many of the same things he asked for himself in 2019. That is because Trump knows these provisions will finally begin to provide meaningful border security and an efficient asylum system, which we have not had for many decades.

A chart shows border apprehensions since the 1990s

A chart shows border apprehensions since the 1990s.

The Daily Beast/USA Facts

This is what Trump said in 2019:

“There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. Every day, Customs and Border Patrol Agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country… This is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis of the heart, a crisis of the soul… Last month, over 20,000 migrant children were brought into the United States, a dramatic increase… To every member of Congress, pass a bill that ends this crisis.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like Trump is describing the “most secure border in history,” because it wasn’t.

Now let’s look at the numbers. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) describes the number of migrants who present themselves at our border or ports of entry as “encounters.” According to DHS, the number of migrants arriving at the border increased every single year of the Trump administration until the pandemic year of 2020, when global migration slowed dramatically.

In 2017, there were roughly 516,000 border encounters, 686,000 in 2018, 1,147,000 in 2019, then 647,000 during the 2020 pandemic year. (I rounded these numbers). So, the numbers got worse every single year of the Trump administration until the pandemic under his policies.

Were these still the lowest numbers in history? Not by a long shot.

The U.S. had fewer border encounters from migrants every single year from 2006-2016 than we did under Trump in 2019. We also had fewer in 2003, 2002, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1987-89, and 1980-83.

Maybe we were deporting more people under Trump, then? Not quite.

The U.S. averaged 290,394 deportations (also called removals) per year during the four years of the Trump administration.

The Biden administration has deported more than that every single year. The U.S. also deported more migrants than the average number during the Trump administration every single year from 2007-2016.

Over 1.1 million migrants were released into the U.S. by DHS during Trump’s four years in office, because there was a lack of bed space at detention facilities. This was more people released into the U.S. than under any four years of the Obama and Bush administrations.

So, the cold hard numbers show that more migrants were coming into the U.S. during the Trump years than many of the preceding years, with fewer people being deported.

When President Biden took office, the American Immigration Council (AIC) estimated that there were 11-14 million migrants already in the U.S. Nearly three million of them had pending asylum claims in the immigration courts that have been backlogged for years because immigration courts lack funding to process the cases.

A chart shows the monthly border apprehensions during the Trump administration

A chart shows the monthly border apprehensions during the Trump administration.

The Daily Beast/American Immigration Council

The vast majority of the rest are here with no legal status, pending citizenship cases, or active asylum cases. They are just here. That is what Biden inherited.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy director for AIC, testified before Congress last week that no president can solve the problem “with the stroke of a pen” as Trump has claimed, unless they are willing to openly defy current U.S. immigration law, grab millions of people on the streets, shove them into planes, and fly them to countries around the globe. He also explained that Trump’s allocation of resources while president made the border problem worse, not better.

Rather than pass the Senate border bill that would have provided, for the first time in decades, adequate funding for more border agents, detention beds, security measures, and immigration judges to alleviate the problem, the latest appropriation bill passed by the Republican House actually cuts funding for immigration courts by $16 million.

Reichlin-Melnick has explained that, with current resources, it would take 42 years for the immigration courts to deport every migrant in the U.S. without legal status. That is just for the ones currently in the U.S.

With the House Republican cuts in funding for immigration courts, even fewer people will be deported.

To recap, Trump failed by his own standards on the only issue he’s really running on—and his party is doing the same right now.

Ron Filipowski is the Editor-in-Chief of and the host of the “Uncovered” podcast.