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BY: Charles Fain Lehman
Addressing the nation Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump called for urgent action on what he called a "crisis" at the southwestern border.
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"There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border," Trump said, adding subsequently that it was a "a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul."
But whether or not the border is in crisis is a matter of disagreement. Numerous media outlets have claimed to "fact check" Trump's language, downplaying or attempting to qualify the state of affairs as he depicts it. Speaking in an official response to Trump's speech, Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) accused the president of fabrication.
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"This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration," Schumer said.
To what extent is there a crisis on the southwestern border? Data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection paint a complicated picture, showing that while some historic problems have receded, border agents are simultaneously dealing with unprecedented challenges on other fronts.
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In absolute terms, CBP is much less burdened than it has been historically. Criticizing the idea that the state of affairs at the border constitutes a national emergency, Migration Policy Institute analyst Sarah Pierce pointed to overall rates of apprehension, which are at "historic lows."
Indeed, the number of individuals apprehended annually by Border Patrol officers has declined substantially from peaks in the 1980s and 1990s, a drop in line with heightened enforcement efforts beginning under President Bill Clinton. At the same time, USBP employs almost five times as many agents today as it did 25 years ago, meaning that each USBP agent is responsible for fewer apprehensions.
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But this absolute view does not tell the whole story. While the total...
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