Under the heading “border security” on the White House website's section on President Obama's immigration proposal, the whitehouse.gov website gives the president credit for having "doubled the number of Border Patrol agents," saying "today border security is stronger than it ever has been."
The White House says the statement is true despite the estimated 52,000 unattended children who have crossed the southwest border so far this year and the roughly 90,000 expected by fall.
“Looking at the overall picture of the border, the Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in history,” White House deputy press secretary Shawn Turner told the Washington Examiner.
“We've doubled the number of agents nationwide ... more agents providing more eyes across the border. If you look at the boots on the ground on the Southwest border, there's been a 95 percent increase since 2004.”
Critics argue that the first part of the White House website statement — that Obama is responsible for doubling the number of Border Patrol agents — is inaccurate because President George W. Bush is responsible for the majority of the sharp increase in border patrol agents over the last 10 years.
There are a total of 20,979 Border Patrol agents right now — not all of whom are deployed to the border, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. In 2008, the last year of Bush's presidency, there were 17,499 Border Patrol agents.
But the second part of the claim — that border security is stronger than ever — is fomenting a pitched debate with advocates for stronger border security arguing the claim is laughable in light of the current crisis and Obama supporters pointing to a slew of statistics they say backs it up.
“The White House continues to insist the border is secure in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis -- what planet are they living on?” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Still, Latino advocacy groups have complained about the record number of deportations of illegal immigrants under Obama's watch, with the National Council of La Raza labeling him the "deporter in chief" earlier this year as they pushed him to dial it back.
Others say Obama is falsely boosting his deportation numbers.
David Stoddard, a founding member of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers who served as a border patrol agent for 27 years, argues that the Obama administration is using formal deportation proceedings for all illegal immigrants apprehended while previous presidents would catch immigrants trying to cross the border illegally and allow them to return to Mexico without a hearing from a deportation judge, what is known as a “voluntary return.”
“For decades, illegal aliens detected at the border — Mexicans in particular — were apprehended and allowed a voluntary return to Mexico,” he said. “Obama is fudging the numbers on his record number of deportations. it's nonsense.”
Those supporting the White House claim of residing over the strongest border in history point to pre-crisis figures showing that Obama has a far better record than Bush when it comes to “flow,” the average net number of illegal immigrants who cross the border and remain in the United States without being deported.
Bush averaged a net flow increase of 380,000 illegal immigrants remaining in the United States a year, they argue, while Obama had a net flow rate of zero, as of 2012, before the current crisis.
Year-by-year numbers tell a more nuanced story. The U.S. population of unauthorized immigrants has indeed declined from a high of a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.5 million in 2012, according to the Pew Center on Hispanic Trends Project, which used the latest data available.
But the numbers could be tracking the U.S. economy's recession and relatively slow recovery. During the 2007-to-2009 recession, total immigration fell by approximately 900,000, according to Pew. But the same researchers discovered that the numbers were ticking up again as the economy improved, landing at 11.7 million in 2012.
Pew attributes the relatively stagnant immigration numbers in recent years to a series of factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations and the long-term decline in Mexico's birth rates, along with better economic conditions in Mexico.