For months, the Trump administration has sought to portray the southern border as a potential source of terrorism by falsely conflating statistics about so-called “known or suspected terrorists” who had been prevented from traveling to the United States with migrants and refugees seeking asylum on the southern border.
On Monday, NBC News clarified the matter: In the first half of fiscal year 2018, according to Customs and Border Protection data obtained by the network, CBP agents encountered just six immigrants on the southern border whose names matched the Terrorist Screening Database — which itself is of dubious accuracy.
Others stopped at the border whose names matched the list were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, NBC News reported. The report didn’t say whether the individuals were stopped while attempting to enter the United States legally or illegally
On Tuesday, October 23, Vice President Mike Pence offered a pristine example of the Trump administration’s disinformation campaign.
“In the last fiscal year,” he said in an interview, “we apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our southern border, from countries that are referred to in the lexicon as ‘other than Mexico.’ That means, ‘from the Middle East region.’”
But that was wrong.
Before long, a spokesperson for Pence issued an amended statement on his behalf, saying: “In 2017 alone the U.S. apprehended on average between 10 suspected terrorists a day attempting to enter the country illegally.”
But that was also wrong.
Later that same Tuesday, a DHS official told TPM that Customs and Border Protection agents had “prevented” 10 “known or suspected terrorists from traveling to or entering the United States.”
That was also wrong.
The same official changed their language again the same day, replacing “traveling to or entering the United States” with the less-threatening-sounding “traveling or attempting to travel to the United States.”
Asked for a documentary source for the statistics, the official said: “DHS data. There is no report to link to.”
And just like that, the United States had gone from apprehending 10 known or suspected terrorists a day at the southern border to preventing 10 known or suspected terrorists from entering the United States. We later learned that the vast majority of these preventions occurred for individuals attempting to fly to the United States — that is, those seeking to obtain a visa or board a plane in another country.
Yet the administration continues to push the same misinformation. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered another illuminating example — using the same bogus logic — as recently as Sunday, receiving a realtime fact check from Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace.