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Fact-checking a GOP Talking Point on Walls and Border Apprehensions

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Cars and trucks line up to enter Mexico from the U.S. at a border crossing in El Paso, Texas, on March 29, 2019. Photo: AP

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., took to Twitter earlier this year to discuss the debate over erecting a wall on the U.S-Mexico border. She said that previous barriers built on the southern border have been successful.

In the tweet, Capito said, “Beginning in the early 1990s, we built barriers in 4 sectors at our southern border. Since each was built, those sectors have seen massive drops in apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally. Let’s admit that physical barriers need to be a part of the solution.”

A graphic attached to the tweet said there had been decreases of 90 percent in the Tucson sector, 95 percent in the Yuma sector, 95 percent in the San Diego sector, and 95 percent in the El Paso sector.

Did the barriers in four sectors of the southwestern border result in massive drops in apprehensions? We took a closer look.

Capito’s evidence

Tyler Hernandez, Capito’s communication director, pointed to a “Border Security Metrics Report” released by the Department of Homeland Security dated May 1, 2018. This report included data back to 2006 but we were able to find additional data going further back at the Customs and Border Protection website. (Meanwhile, the fact-checking site Snopes.com noted that the statistic originated with the Republican National Committee.)

Here’s a chart showing the trend lines for border apprehensions — the typical way to measure illegal immigration into the United States from the southern border — going back to 1990, the period Capito referenced in her tweet.

Broadly speaking, the chart shows a downward trend for apprehensions at the various sectors, interrupted by a spike around 2004 and 2006. This means that for roughly the last 20 years, there has been a downward movement in migrant flows across the border.

Tucson fell by 92 percent from its peak in 2000, Yuma fell by 70 percent from its peak in 2005, San Diego fell by 93 percent from ts peak in 1992, and El Paso fell by 89 percent from its peak in 1993.

That said, these large declines started between 1992 and 2005 — before passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The law, which was signed by President George W. Bush, authorized about 700 miles of fencing along certain parts of the southern border. That fencing was built over the course of several years after passage of the law, depending on the sector.

If you measure the declines between the law took effect in 2006 and 2018, they are still substantial, but not as large as the declines from the pre-2006 peaks. El Paso fell by 74 percent, San Diego by 73 percent, Tucson by 87 percent, and Yuma by 78 percent. Those percentages are all smaller than what Capito tweeted out.

It’s also important to note that some border crossings may have shifted from urban areas, where fences were erected, to more rural areas, said Tony Payan, a fellow for Mexico Studies at Rice University.

“Some barriers did go up, primarily along urban areas, like San Diego and El Paso,” he said. “But these barriers did not stop undocumented migration at all. They simply funneled it to areas further out from the urban areas.”

In fact, the overall apprehension statistics in the southwest border fell less than the statistics for some of the relatively urban sectors Capito cited. Overall, apprehensions at the southwestern border, including areas that Capito didn’t highlight, fell by 76 percent from their peak in 2000 to 2018, and by 63 percent between 2006 and 2018.

That’s a less dramatic decline than those seen specifically in El Paso, San Diego and Tucson that Capito cited. So Capito’s chosen sectors are somewhat cherry-picked.

Finally, immigration experts say that security measures do not account for all — or necessarily even most — of the decline in border-crossing.

Douglas Massey, a professor at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research who has studied border migration for decades, has previously told PolitiFact that he considers the economy the primary factor. The Great Recession, he said, had an immense impact in slowing border crossing. In particular, dwindling prospects of finding a job in sectors such as construction, which traditionally attract a disproportionate number of Latinos, dampened the urge for potential Mexican migrants to undertake a difficult journey.

Payan agreed that barriers would not have been the only factor.

“Although tougher enforcement and barriers did help,” Payan said, “other factors played a role, including Mexico’s changing demographics, and rising middle class, and U.S. deployment of tougher checks, such as E-Verify,” an electronic employment verification system.

“Everything helps, but it is absolutely misleading to attribute the decrease in undocumented crossings to barriers, particularly that early,” Payan said.

Capito’s office reiterated to PolitiFact that her tweet said that “physical barriers need to be a part of the solution,” rather than the only part.

Our ruling

Capito said, “Beginning in the early 1990s, we built barriers in 4 sectors at our southern border. Since each was built, those sectors have seen massive drops in apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally,” including 90 percent to 95 percent decreases in the Tucson, Yuma, San Diego and El Paso sectors. 

The four sectors she cited fell substantially after hitting peaks in the 1990s and the early 2000s, but not quite as much as she indicated. And the rest of her assertion is questionable.

Border apprehension declines started prior to passage of the 2006 law that authorized border fencing. Moreover, while such barriers may have had an impact, other factors, notably the troubled economy after the Great Recession, are often credited with playing a key role in the decline of border apprehensions.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Can Cell Phones, Bluetooth Defeat Credit Card Skimmers?

A researcher holds a magnetic credit card "read head" that is used to read information from cards during retail transactions. Photo: AP

Should you be worried about credit card fraud when you pull up to the gas pump? A post circulating recently on social media says you can deploy your cell phone to stay safe.

An April 14, 2019, post on a Facebook page called “Local Jackson County News WV” told readers they can use their cell phones at gas stations to determine whether a pump has a credit card skimmer — a device that can steal credit card numbers.

The post said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Can Bluetooth sensors always determine if there are credit card skimmers in gas pumps? We took a closer look.

How skimmers work

First, some basics: Credit card skimmers are real, and they’re illegal.

When installed in gas pumps, skimmers listen for the data traffic from the credit card reader, record it to memory and pass that data onto the pump controller.

Skimmer technology has become so advanced that thieves do not have to return to the pump to retrieve the stolen information. Perpetrators can simply sit in their cars and download credit card information to a laptop.

A special agent with the U.S. Secret Service told NBCNews last year that the agency recovers 20 to 30 skimmers a week, with an average skimmer holding information from 80 credit cards.

Can Bluetooth sensors stop skimmers?

Bluetooth can be a useful tool for consumers who want to protect their information, but they are far from foolproof.

Paige Anderson, the director of government relations with the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group representing gas stations and convenience stores, told PolitiFact that there are too many kinds of credit card skimmers to rely on a phone to detect them.

“Some use Bluetooth technology, some use cell service and some skimming devices store the data themselves,” Anderson said.

Vassil Roussev, a computer scientist and director of the University of New Orleans Cyber Center, said that a “hit” on Bluetooth “could very well be an indicator of compromise by a skimmer, but it could also be any number of other devices within 30 feet or so, such as devices in other cars. More importantly, not finding one does not mean the pump is safe.”

The skimmer need not be detectable by Bluetooth, he said, or it could be programmed to send signals only at certain times.

“Overall, I would say that this tip offers a low level of protection,” Roussev said.

Anderson added that checking for skimmers is something gas station owners and workers need to do on a daily basis.

Retailers should conduct daily internal and external checks and take other measures to foil data thieves, she said. These practices reduce the risk of potential credit card theft, she said, though they may not eliminate it.

Our ruling

Local Jackson County News WV published a post that said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Checking a Bluetooth sensor in your cell phone before inserting your credit card in a gas pump may be able to determine whether the pump has been compromised. However, skimmer technologies vary, and many types of skimmers won’t be detectable using the Bluetooth method.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Are 19% of West Virginians on Food Stamps?

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A food drive at Newark Liberty International Airport, on Jan. 23, 2019. Photo: AP, Julio Cortez

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently took to Twitter to criticize a Trump administration proposal on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes known as food stamps.

Manchin wrote: “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed. I’m urging @USDA Sec Sonny Perdue to withdraw the proposal.”

The tweet linked to a press release from Manchin explaining his position on the proposal, which would give states less flexibility on enforcing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. Manchin and several dozen senators from both parties expressed opposition to the proposal.

We won’t address the pros and cons of the Trump administration proposal here, but we did wonder if almost one of every five people in West Virginia rely on SNAP.

We checked with experts and looked at the data, and it turns out that Manchin was pretty close to the mark.

In February 2019, the most recent month for which full data is available, West Virginia had 314,042 SNAP beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the state’s estimated population for 2018, according to the Census Bureau, was 1,805,832.

That works out to 17.4 percent of state residents, or a bit lower than the 19 percent figure Manchin cited.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed.”

The percentage Manchin cited is a little high, but it’s close. We rate his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-checking Median Pay for Black, Hispanic, Native American Women

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A rally on National Equal Pay Day in Montpelier, Vt. Photo: AP

In a tweet timed for Equal Pay Day, the West Virginia Democratic Party sought to spotlight differences in pay between women of color and men.

The April 2 tweet said, “Black women make only around 63 cents while Native American women earn 58 cents, and Hispanic women make just 54 cents in comparison to every dollar a man makes. Today we not only acknowledge the pay gap, we recommit to closing it. #EqualPayDay2019.”

Is this correct? After looking at the underlying data, we found that it’s not far off.

When we contacted the party, they pointed us to a report produced by the National Partnership of Women and Families in April 2019.

The report said that “among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs in the United States, Black women are typically paid 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents and Latinas just 53 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”

Those aren’t exactly the same numbers that the party offered, but they match the previous year’s version of the partnership’s report. So the data is slightly out of date.

In addition, we should note that the state party left out part of the description. The National Partnership of Women and Families was comparing women who hold full-time, year-round jobs, not just women who are working any amount of time. And they were also comparing those figures to white, non-Hispanic men, not to men more generally.

Potentially, this could make a difference. So we decided to look at the underlying Census Bureau data for the comparison the tweet actually made — earnings by Black, Native American and Hispanic women compared to all men.

Overall, according to the Census data, the median earnings for all male workers was $44,408. For Black women, it was $29,708, and for Hispanic women, it was $24,245.

That means that African-American women earned 67 cents for every dollar a man made, while Hispanic women earned 55 cents.

The data for Native American women was harder to locate. The National Partnership of Women and Families pointed us to a different data set from the Census Bureau.

According to that data set, men earned a median of $39,819, while Native American women earned $23,214. That works out to 58 cents on the dollar, as the tweet said.

All told, the tweet’s figure for African Americans was off by four cents, the figure for Hispanics was off by one cent, and the figure was accurate for Native Americans.

So, two of the tweet’s figures are off the mark, but not by much.

A final note: as we’ve written previously, this figure refers to the general disparity between what men and women earn, and does not compare cases of apples to apples.

These comparisons do not adjust for such factors as the degrees and jobs women pursue, the time they take off to care for children or the years of experience they’ve had.

Other studies have shown a closer match for men and women holding the same jobs.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Democratic Party tweeted, “Black women make only around 63 cents while Native American women earn 58 cents and Hispanic women make just 54 cents in comparison to every dollar a man makes.”

The tweet is right for Native American women, but the figures for black women and Hispanic women are 67 cents and 55 cents, respectively. That’s not exactly what the tweet said, but it’s not far off.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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