Tom Tancredo's Math About Steve King's Drug Mule Claim Doesn't Add Up

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Rep. Steve King has taken quite a beating for claiming that for every one young undocumented immigrant who's a valedictorian, there are 100 who are drug mules. King thinks he's one of the few voices willing to tell the truth with the cold hard facts. The problem is King doesn't know what a cold hard fact is.

On Monday, The Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, gave King "four Pinocchios" for claiming that, "For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." Well King has a big fat comeback for Kessler, at right.

Note that King mocks people who "feel" (air quotes King's) Kessler is right. In his 20-minute speech on the House floor last week, King offered his own history of Western civilization, drawing a line from empirically-minded Greeks all the way to his racist stereotypes. ("We have to be critical thinkers. We have to be analytical. We should understand facts from emotion.") The second link in King's tweet goes to the conservative site World Net Daily, an unlikely place to resolve factual disputes, as it is well-known for high birtherism. It's an editorial by former Rep. Tom Tancredo, with the sub-headline, "Exclusive: Tom Tancredo does math on valedictorians, drug dealers among illegal youth." It's true that Tancredo does some math. He makes up an number, and then correctly calculates a percentage of that number. That is math, but it does not prove anything.

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Tancredo, who was known for his anti-immigration position in Congress, writes:

There is no way to know the exact ratio of valedictorians to drug smugglers among the 1.7 million illegal aliens the Pew Hispanic Center says will qualify for Obama’s “Deferred Action” amnesty program. But just for fun, let’s do the math.

The Obama executive order Tancredo refers to is a stand-in for the DREAM Act, which is what King opposes. As Kessler writes, "Under the proposed DREAM Act, people between the ages of 12 and 35 who came to the United States aged 15 and younger and meet a list of qualifications, as such obtaining a high school degree and having 'good moral character,' can eventually become citizens." Tancredo says Obama's executive order does not require that those getting deferred action have come into this country with a parent. So it would grant "amnesty" to any kid who crossed the border under any circumstance, he says. Then he makes up some numbers:

By the math, allowing that up to 20 percent of the 1.7 million Pew number might be visa overstays and not border jumpers (most visa overstays were tourists and other adults entering via airports), we can estimate that about 80 percent or 1.36 million of them entered the U.S. by crossing the southwest border illegally.

Tancredo should be congratulated on getting the Pew number correct. But where does that 20 percent number come from? He cites no source. About 40 percent of undocumented immigrants entered the country legally and overstayed their visa, The Wall Street Journal reported in April. Why the number for young people would be half that, Tancredo does not say. "How likely is it that a teenager carried drugs across the border?" he asks. Tancredo does not offer math here, either, but suggests that drug cartels smuggle people, too. He says:

Now, If only 10 percent of those 1.36 million were required by the Mexican cartels to carry a load of marijuana or other drugs as part of the price for the border crossing, that would mean that about 136,000 of the young people who qualify for amnesty under any known version of the Dream Act probably smuggled drugs as part of their border crossing. But let’s be generous and say that number may be only 100,000.

Again, the 1.36 million is a made-up number based on a baseless claim that 80 percent of young people entered the country by crossing the border with Mexico. Tancredo is correct that 10 percent of 1.36 million is 136,000. Good job! But the 10 percent figure, too, is based on nothing. Then Tancredo makes up another number, 100,000, just to "be generous." 

Having proved that he can properly move decimal places, Tancredo concludes, "For Steve King to be a the racist demagogue addicted to 'hateful' rhetoric as painted by his critics, there have to be more than 1,000 valedictorians among the 1.7 million illegal aliens who will be granted legal status and eventual citizenship by the Dream Act. Does Speaker Boehner or Sen. Menendez know the Vegas odds on that?"

Actually, as Kessler writes, the odds might be higher than you'd expect. There's no national list of valedictorians, so there's no way to know how many are DREAMers. But: "There’s actually a trend now in awarding many students with the coveted title, including more than 100 at some schools or even more than 10 percent of the class."

Tancredo concludes that the math doesn't actually matter. "The point of this little mathematical exercise is not to prove that any specific number of 'Dreamers' first entered the country as drug smugglers. The point is that Rep. King has raised a legitimate issue and does not deserve to be vilified and demonized for doing so." But if King wants to defend himself by saying he's just pointing out the facts — as he did, at length, on the House floor last week, saying, "I want the most logical, rational policy" — he should probably be able to prove that his facts are actually facts.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.