The Trump administration has claimed that U.S. border officials detained “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” last year at the Mexican border. But figures from the federal government’s Department of Customs and Border Protection reveal that only six people on a security watchlist were detained over a six-month period, NBC reports.
The grossly inflated figure is apparently part of a strategy by the administration to whip up fear of immigrants at the southern border and support for a declaration of a national emergency by President Donald Trump so he can build his border wall.
Forty-one people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018 (which is the first half of fiscal year 2018). But 35 of them were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, leaving only six “non-U.S. persons,” NBC said.
On the northern border, which is of little concern to the Trump administration, Customs and Border Protection stopped 91 people listed in the database — including 41 who were not American citizens or residents, NBC reported. State Department reports on terrorism have expressed more concern about suspects traveling in from Canada than Mexico.
The 4,000 figure is apparently linked to the total number of suspected terrorists encountered worldwide in 2017 — and is even an exaggeration of that. DHS reported that there were 2,554 “encounters” that year with individuals on the terrorist watch list traveling to the U.S. Of those, 2,170 were attempting to enter by air, with 335 by land and the rest by sea. Nothing “tied them to Mexico,” The Associated Press reported.
The Trump administration is apparently claiming that the entire tally — plus an additional 1,500 — were all stopped at the Mexican border.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was skewered by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday over her faulty 4,000 statistic that she floated Friday.
“Wait, wait … I know this statistic,” Wallace said. “Do you know where those 4,000 people come or where they’re captured? Airports.”
He also cited a State Department report that found “no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has so far refused to clarify the discrepancy in the statistics, saying they are classified. But she also said Friday that Customs and Border Protection had “stopped” more than 3,000 “special-interest aliens” at the border. But that’s different than the terrorist watch list and generally includes immigrants who simply come from countries of concern to the U.S., AP noted.
According to AP, citing a CATO Institute study, the only known terrorists crossing the Mexican border from 1984 to 2017 were three ethnic Albanians from Macedonia who came as children in 1984 and were arrested in the foiled plot to attack the Army base at Fort Dix in 2007.
In October Vice President Mike Pence, apparently relying on Nielsen’s worldwide stats on suspected terrorists, told The Washington Post that “10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day” were being apprehended at the southern border (just seven months earlier he said there were seven a day). The newspaper called it an “eye-poppingly bogus claim.”