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White House press secretary claims illegal immigration is down 90%, gets fact-checked by reporter

By Ben Marquis
|
May 3, 2023

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has been accused in the past of playing fast and loose with the facts in touting President Joe Biden's supposed accomplishments, particularly with regard to the migration crisis at the southern border.

Jean-Pierre was fiercely criticized for being deliberately dishonest on Monday following what appeared to be a highly dubious claim that illegal immigration had been reduced by more than 90 percent, the Daily Mail reported.

As it turned out, she was referencing one particular program for migrants from certain specific countries, but that was not at all clear in her remarks Monday afternoon.

Claimed "illegal migration" has "come down by more than 90 percent"

During Monday's press briefing, Jean-Pierre was asked how Biden planned to address illegal immigration at the southern border and whether he considered his job on that issue to be finished or not.

"So, as you know, on his first day in this administration, the President put forth a comprehensive immigration legislation. And that’s to show how seriously he took this, how important he und- – how he understood that the system had been broken," Jean-Pierre replied. "It needs to be modernized, been – be – be moved to the 21st century. And so, this is something that the President has talked about."

"He has asked Congress to take action – Republicans in Congress to take action and to take– and to work on this in a con- – in a bipartisan way. He’s going to continue to do that," she continued. "In the meantime, he’s put forth some – he has tools that he’s used to – to make sure that we do this – we actually deal with the immigration system in a humane way, and in a –in a way that is that – that actually deals with what we’re seeing at the border."

"And that’s why you’ve seen the parolee program be so successful. It has – it has – it has – when it comes to illegal migration, you’ve seen it come down by more than 90 percent, and that’s because of this act- – the actions that this President has taken," the press secretary claimed.

WH Spox Accused of Telling ‘Blatant Lie’

The Daily Mail reported that Republican and media critics were quick to point out that statistics on border encounters released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn't align with Jean-Pierre's claim that illegal immigration had been reduced by "more than 90 percent," and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel went so far as the label the claim a "blatant lie."

Chuck Ross, a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, suggested that what Jean-Pierre had said was "Maybe the biggest lie from the White House podium so far this year."

Her claim also appeared to be belied by a coincidentally timed message from U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz that outlined what his agents had discovered and seized along the southern border over the weekend, including more than 22,000 migrant apprehensions, massive quantities of illicit drugs, and evidence of human trafficking, among other things.

Mediaite reported on Jean-Pierre's dubious claim and found that, according to Fox News border reporter Bill Melugin, she had likely been referencing a brief moment in time earlier in the year when a particular program for migrants from a handful of nations had temporarily experienced a substantial drop in illegal migration before then rising once again.

In response to a video clip of Jean-Pierre's "90 percent" claim, the reporter tweeted, "False. There was a window of time earlier this year where encounters with Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Cubans did temporarily dip 90% after a policy change, but other countries, like China, shot up over 800%. Illegal crossings, including Venezuelans, back at peak highs now."

Jean-Pierre Accused Fact-Checking Reporter of Dramatics

Fox News reporter Peter Doocy followed up on Jean-Pierre's "90 percent" claim the next day in an effort to clarify the questionable assertion, but she became "agitated" and "annoyed," per the network, and accused the inquisitive reporter of engaging in "dramatics" before delivering a curt response and moving on quickly to another reporter.

During Tuesday's press briefing, and amid back-and-forth interjections, Doocy referenced the "90 percent" claim and asked, "Where did that number come from? Because – CBP is telling us the number is – 136,000 people – more this fiscal year so far."

As Doocy asked that question, Jean-Pierre immediately began to reply, "It was – I was speaking – I’m about – I’m about to answer you – If you –if you – if the dramatics could come down just a little bit – If the dramatics could come down a little bit."

"What’s dramatic about asking a question about ...," Doocy inquired but was cut off again as Jean-Pierre said, "So I was speaking to the parolee program. As you know, the President put in place a parolee program to deal with – to deal with certain countries on – on ways that we can limit illegal migration. And we have seen the data has shown us that it has gone down by more than 90 percent. That was what I was speaking to."

Yet, when the Fox News reporter attempted to ask a follow-up question to that response he was interrupted again as the White House spokeswoman refused to address any further queries from him and instead sought questions from a different reporter.