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Fact Check: Trump Ad Twists Facts on Clinton's Immigration Plan

The Republican presidential nominee’s ad began airing Aug. 19



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    File - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during an event at the Hilton Midtown Hotel, July 16, 2016 in New York City.

    FactCheck.org is a non-partisan non-profit organization that will hold candidates and key figures accountable during the 2016 presidential campaign. FactCheck.org will check facts of speeches, advertisements and more for NBC.

    Donald Trump’s new TV ad on immigration creates a misleading comparison, saying that under Hillary Clinton, “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay” but under Trump, “terrorists and dangerous criminals” are “kept out.” In fact, Clinton has said she would deport “violent criminals, terrorists, and anyone who threatens our safety.”

    The Trump campaign did not respond to our questions about the ad. However, Clinton has supported measures, including the 2013 bipartisan Senate immigration bill, that would have allowed those living in the U.S. illegally who committed fewer than three misdemeanors, not including minor traffic violations, to stay — provided they met other requirements. This could be what the ad means by criminals “get to stay.”

    If so, the ad, titled “Two Americas: Immigration,” misleads the viewer by contrasting Clinton’s plan with Trump’s proposal to keep “terrorists and dangerous criminals” out. That’s no different from what Clinton has proposed on illegal immigration. There are certainly different definitions of the word “dangerous,” but Clinton has used the same language in talking about whom she would deport. And the bill she supported barred convicted felons from becoming legal residents or citizens.

    The Republican presidential nominee’s ad began airing Aug. 19 on a $4.8 million ad buy over 10 days in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, the campaign has said.

    The ad begins with the narrator describing immigration “in Hillary Clinton’s America: The system stays rigged against Americans. Syrian refugees flood in. Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay. Collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line. Our border open.”

    In contrast, the narrator gives this description of “Donald Trump’s America”: “Terrorists and dangerous criminals: kept out. The border: secured. Our families: safe.”

    We’ve written about a few of these claims before. Clinton hasn’t supported “open” borders, as the ad falsely implies. The 2013 Senate immigration bill — the most recent comprehensive immigration legislation, which Clinton has said she backed — would have made large investments in border security, including additional border fencing, and Clinton said during a Democratic debate in November, “Border security has always been a part of that [immigration] debate.” As we’ll explain later, the immigration plan on her website talks about deporting some individuals. That’s not an “open” border.

    The ad also uses a deceptive image of people crowded on top of train cars when it says “our border open,” as if anyone and everyone could stream in legally. That’s not what Clinton has proposed or supported. The 2013 Senate bill would have set up a path to citizenship for those who had entered the country prior to Dec. 31, 2011.

    The ad also leaves the impression that “illegal immigrants” would be “collecting Social Security benefits” under Clinton’s presidency, but that would only happen if those immigrants became citizens or had legal status. And that’s the case under current law. As we’ve explained before back in 2009 and 2006, those in the country illegally are barred from collecting Social Security. Once an immigrant gains legal status, then that person can get credit for the Social Security taxes he or she paid when working illegally.

    As for whether Clinton would allow a “flood” of Syrian refugees, that’s a matter of opinion. Obama has authorized the acceptance of 10,000 Syrian refugees for fiscal year 2016, while Clinton has said the number should be as many as 65,000. For context, there are nearly 5 million Syrian refugees displaced by the country’s civil war, which began in 2011. And the U.S. is set to accept a total of 85,000 refugees from around the world in fiscal 2016.

    Trump has said that no Syrian refugees should be admitted to the U.S., because terrorists may be among them, and Clinton has said the refugees should be admitted “only if we have as careful a screening and vetting process as we can imagine.”

    The claim that piqued our fact-checking interest, though, was the assertion that under Clinton “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay.”

    ‘Criminals Stay’?

    The ad includes a graphic that says “criminals stay” and a citation of “NBC News 7/9/16.” We tried internet and Lexis Nexis searches to find a relevant NBC News article on that day, but we came up empty. We asked the Trump campaign to point us to the article in question, and spokeswoman Hope Hicks told us over the phone that she would take a look at our emailed request. We have not received a response, but we will update this article if we do.

    However, Clinton has talked about deporting criminals as part of her illegal immigration plan.

    Clinton’s proposal says that she will send a plan to Congress that will include “a path to full and equal citizenship” within her first 100 days in office. That plan “will treat every person with dignity, fix the family visa backlog, uphold the rule of law, protect our borders and national security, and bring millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.”

    The plan goes on to say that she would defend Obama’s executive orders to delay deportation for so-called DREAMers and the parents of citizens and lawful residents. But she specifically talks about deporting other immigrants, saying, she would “focus resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.”

    During a March Democratic debate, Clinton was asked about allowing immigrants to stay if they lacked a criminal record. She said: “But if you are asking about everyone who is already here, undocumented immigrants, the 11-12 million who are living here, my priorities are to deport violent criminals, terrorists, and anyone who threatens our safety.”

    In a speech to the National Immigrant Integration Conference in December 2015, Clinton also talked about “prioritiz[ing] whom to deport.” She said: “Dangerous criminals? Yes. DREAMers and their families? No.”

    As for Trump, he initially talked about deporting all immigrants living in the country illegally, but his stance has recently softened. At a February debate, he said that all immigrants with illegal status “will go out,” adding that some will “come back legally.” Last November, he talked about using a “deportation force” to deport all of the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.

    But in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Aug. 22, Trump said that “we’re going to get rid of all of the bad ones,” mentioning “gang members” and “killers,” and talked about using the existing deportation process for others. “As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now, perhaps with a lot more energy, and we’re going to do it only through the system of laws,” Trump said.

    Trump described his deportation approach as similar to past administrations, including the current one. “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m going to do the same thing and I just said that,” he told O’Reilly.

    The candidates obviously differ on what to do about noncriminals who are illegally living in the United States: Clinton would create a path to citizenship, while Trump says he would keep existing laws and deportation processes. But as far as prioritizing whom to deport, both have said they’d focus on criminals and dangerous individuals.

    What about the measures Clinton has supported in the past? The 2013 Senate immigration bill included a years-long path to citizenship, but that path would not have been available to those convicted of a felony, three misdemeanor crimes (not counting “minor traffic offenses”), a foreign crime or unlawful voting. Also, an individual would have been ineligible if there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that the person “is engaged in or is likely to engage after entry in any terrorist activity.”

    That would mean that an immigrant in the country illegally who was convicted of two misdemeanors could have stayed under the bill — provided that person met other requirements including paying a $500 fine and back taxes. Becoming a citizen then required other measures, such as having a steady work history, knowing English, passing background checks and more.

    The bipartisan legislation, also known as the “Gang of Eight” bill, said that it would be possible for the secretary of homeland security to waive the barring of those convicted of three misdemeanors for “humanitarian” or “public interest” reasons. Under federal immigration laws, a misdemeanor is an offense punishable by up to a year in prison.

    There are similar exclusions for felons and other criminals in Obama’s executive order on deferring deportation for so-called DREAMers, those who came to the United States at a young age and are attending or have graduated from high school or have served in the U.S. military. Among the requirements to apply for a two-year deferral of deportation proceedings: “Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    Such language leaves open the possibility that some convicted criminals — if their offenses were misdemeanors and fewer than three — would be allowed to stay under the types of proposals Clinton has supported. But contrasting that with a Trump plan to keep out “terrorists and dangerous criminals” is a misleading comparison. Clinton, too, has said she would deport “dangerous” and “violent” criminals, “terrorists” and “anyone who threatens our safety.”