Donald Trump says the United States admits Syrian refugees without checking their backgrounds and that Hillary Clinton wants to allow “radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country.”
Neither is so, part of a pattern of exaggeration that strains the credibility of his argument since the Orlando nightclub shooting that the U.S. faces apocalyptic danger from Muslim immigrants.
Trump’s rhetoric has been slashing, polarizing, passionate and at times illogical. He confuses immigrants with refugees and overlooks the fact some extremists are U.S. citizens. He speaks as if the U.S. border is a gate wide open. And his numbers are off.
It’s a given that hyperbole comes with Trump territory. He’s acknowledged that exaggeration for dramatic effect is part of how he rolls. It’s how he connects at a gut level with supporters who look past mangled facts to what they see as a larger truth, while opponents stand back aghast.
Altogether, the Orlando massacre by a U.S. citizen with Islamist beliefs, radical sympathies and an apparently tortured psyche has reignited a tangle of debates on domestic terrorism, threats from abroad, the nation’s refugee traditions, hate crimes and guns in the early days of the Trump-Clinton general election campaign.
A look at some of Trump’s recent statements on those issues and how they compare with the facts:
Trump: “We are taking in thousands of people into our country. We have no idea where they come from, we have no idea who the hell they are. We know they believe in certain things that we don’t want to believe in.”
The Facts: It’s not true that the government knows nothing about refugees who come to the United States.
The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration keeps detailed records about how many refugees arrive monthly, and from where. The information is available to the public online through the agency’s Refugee Processing Center. The arrival information is broken down by country and region.
In May, for example, 6,511 refugees were resettled in the United States. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had the largest number of refugees who arrived last month, 1,274.
Annual data about immigrants is also available from the government through the Homeland Security Department’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
Would-be immigrants and refugees are screened to ensure they haven’t been identified by intelligence agencies or law enforcement as having ties to terrorist organizations or criminal records. But people’s belief systems are not generally considered as part of their applications to move to the United States.
Trump: “And yet you see this great migration, which is a horrible thing to watch.”
The Facts: Trump is right that there is a mass migration taking place from Syria and other countries in the Middle East.
Millions of people are thought to have fled. But he’s wrong to imply that the huge influx has come into the United States.
Since 2011, about 5,760 Syrian refugees have been brought to the U.S.
As of the end of May, 41,424 refugees from around the world have come to the United States since the start of the budget year in October. According to the State Department, 14,898 of those people are from the “Near East/South Asia” region, which includes Syria. But only 2,805 Syrians were among them.
As a whole, African nations have accounted for more refugees and Myanmar (also known as Burma) leads all countries, with 8,112 refugees, in the first eight months of the current budget year.
According to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, more than 1 million Syrians have sought refuge in Europe since 2011. That’s the “great migration.”
Trump: “Now she (Clinton) wants to allow them to come into our country pretty much unvetted because every law enforcement person that I’ve spoken to and that you watched and that you read is saying it’s very hard, if not impossible, to check out people. There are just no papers. There are no papers. And yet you see this great migration.”
“Altogether, under the Clinton plan, you’d be admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East with no system to vet them or to prevent the radicalization of their children.
“Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country — they enslave women and murder gays.”
The Facts: That’s not what Clinton has said.
The presumptive Democratic nominee says she wants to “begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in, looking to really emphasize some of those who are most vulnerable, a lot of the persecuted religious minorities, including Christians, and some who have been brutalized, like the Yazidi women.”
Clinton proposes that the United States accept as many as 65,000 people from Syria, compared with President Barack Obama’s plans to resettle 10,000 people from that country this year. She has never suggested that she would scale back the refugee processing system as it exists today.
Late last year, the Obama administration for the first time disclosed details about how refugees are investigated. Officials described a drawn-out process that includes in-person interviews overseas and involves multiple agencies, led by Homeland Security.
Refugees must submit to interviews before they can come, and provide biographical details about themselves — their families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, telephone numbers, email accounts and more. They also provide biometric information, including fingerprints. Syrians are subject to additional, classified controls that officials have declined to describe specifically.
Refugee processing generally takes 18 months to 24 months. It can be longer for Syrians.
While Trump is wrong to say Syrian refugees undergo no screening or practically none, that’s not to say the system is foolproof.
Contrary to Trump’s assertion that “there are no papers,” refugee applicants must provide documentation. But the administration has acknowledged it can be difficult to verify the accuracy or authenticity of documents provided by refugee applicants against foreign government records from countries that don’t cooperate with the U.S. government, such as Syria.
It can be tough for the U.S. to check foreign government records for local arrests or lesser bureaucratic interactions, such as bank records, business licenses or civil filings.
Refugees from Syria in particular tend to provide extensive documents involving their day-to-day lives. They often have family histories, military records and other information that can be useful for American authorities investigating them.
Trump: “We have a dysfunctional immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country, and it does not permit us to protect our citizens.”
The Facts: Trump may be right on his overall description of the U.S. immigration system as “dysfunctional.” It’s demonstrably false to say the U.S. doesn’t know who is being allowed into the country.
Illegal immigration along the Mexican border remains a problem. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and people traveling as families, mostly from Central America, have arrived at the U.S. border this year.
The U.S. still lacks a comprehensive exit system to determine more effectively who has stayed in the country after their visas have expired.
But the U.S. government obviously knows who receives the government’s permission to legally immigrate into the country. Would-be immigrants, refugees and foreign tourists are all subjected to background checks and various forms of screening.
In the case of tourists, people from 38 countries approved for the Visa Waiver Program must submit biographic and other data about themselves before they can legally travel to the United States using the online Electronic System for Travel.
People from the approved countries who are also citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria or who have traveled in those countries since March 2011 are generally not eligible to use the visa-free travel program. Tourists from all other countries have to apply for visas and submit to interviews, as well as other vetting.