U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

Trump claims a border wall would ‘pay for itself’ (but it really wouldn’t)

Updated

There’s still a chance that Donald Trump isn’t bluffing and he’ll shut down the federal government later this month over funding for a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. In fact, the issue was on the president’s mind yesterday when Trump wrote on Twitter, with his usual habit of capitalizing assorted words he finds important, “We would save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall.”

It wasn’t altogether clear what he was talking about. American taxpayers would save billions of dollars by spending billions of dollars on a pointless vanity project?

Today, Trump went into a little more detail, tweeting, “Could somebody please explain to the Democrats (we need their votes) that our Country losses 250 Billion Dollars a year on illegal immigration, not including the terrible drug flow. Top Border Security, including a Wall, is $25 Billion. Pays for itself in two months.”

Jane Coaston made a compelling case that someone needs to have the details explained to them, but it’s not congressional Democrats. Indeed, in her Vox piece, Coaston tried to figure out the origins of the $250 billion figure, which the president appears to have made up out of whole cloth.

President Trump’s use of numbers in his public statements and tweets has always been somewhat arbitrary. As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, who fact-checks every single one of Trump’s public statements, put it in November, “If Trump cites any number at all, the real number is usually smaller.”

The $250 billion referenced in his tweet is a prime example, because in August 2016, Trump said during an Arizona speech that “illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion a year.” In Trump’s Tuesday tweet, he has somehow more than doubled that number in two years, despite an overall downward trend in undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

(For the record, I reached out to the White House and to the Department of Homeland Security for a source for the $250 billion number, but have not yet heard back.)

Coaston did find a conservative group that published a report that put a $115.8 billion price tag on illegal immigration, but that figure is (a) a contested total released by an advocacy organization that wants new restrictions on immigration; and (b) still less than half the number Trump used this morning.

What’s more, lingering in the background is a relevant question the White House no longer even tries to answer: whatever happened to Trump’s commitment to get Mexico to pay for a border wall, one of the president’s signature campaign promises?

Has the president forgot about this, or does he assume we’ve forgotten about this?

Correction: A reader noticed a flaw in a paragraph I had about Trump’s reference to “two months,” so I’ve deleted it.

Donald Trump and Immigration Policy

Trump claims a border wall would 'pay for itself' (but it really wouldn't)

Updated