Donald Trump has been insisting that “the wall” is a national security issue. He’ll have to make that claim during his eight minutes of terror on Tuesday night if he actually wants to put any cash behind his declaration of a national emergency. To support that unsupportable position, Trump has been claiming that thousands of terrorists have been pouring over the southern border.
Desperate to provide some basis for Trump’s claims, the Department of Homeland security issued a “fact sheet” stating that “3,755 known or suspected terrorists tried to enter or travel to the United States in fiscal year 2017.” Sarah Sanders rounded up to 4,000 when repeating this claim in an interview.
But those numbers don’t have anything to do with the border. That’s the number from all points of entry, including not just Canada, but every airport in the nation. In fact, that includes every airport in the world. Because most of those who were stopped were stopped before they ever got on a flight. These aren’t dangerous people who were tackled crossing a U.S. border. They’re people who were simply denied a flight somewhere, anywhere, in the world.
Even then, it’s not a true statement that more than 3,000 terrorists were stopped. That’s everyone who was a known or suspected terrorist—including people whose only crime was displaying a “terroristic travel pattern.” Many of those “suspected terrorists” were stopped from entering the United States just because they came from, or visited, a place DHS considers terrorist-y, with no other evidence that they were in any way involved in terrorism. And even the “known terrorists” weren’t necessarily known terrorists, since many of these stops seemed to be cases of mistaken identity, with people stopped from traveling just because they shared all or part of a name with someone on the no-fly list.
If there was a wall across the southern border, and that wall somehow let in all the good people and stopped all the bad people, just how many bad people would that be?
CNN reports that number was “about a dozen” according to officials—though they didn’t provide a scale for “about.” Military Times notes that Trump had recently given a number of 10 “very serious people.” Except Trump made it 10 people a day rather than a dozen a year. So perhaps “about a dozen” is actually 10. Of that “about,” DHS went on to say that “about half” tried to illegally enter the United States. So, if completely built, and completely effective, the wall would stop … would that be two people? Maybe five? Six at the most?
The State Department report for 2016 had a more precise number. That report stated there was “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.” Zero. The real number is zero.
The Military Times article documents the development of Trump’s claims about terrorists on the border. That started with the 2017 State Department report showing no evidence that there had been any terrorists crossing from Mexico. But that report was followed last January with a DHS report concerning about seven “encounters” a day with people trying to enter the United States. Again, that would be people everywhere in the world, including at every airport and at every embassy or consulate where people go to apply for visas. Then Trump made his declaration about 10 “very serious” people.
But honestly, trying to connect those reports to Trump’s statement is rather pointless. It seems clear that Trump got his “very serious” number from the place he gets all his other numbers: straight out of his ass.
Scaring people about the southern border has been part of Trump’s play from the beginning. And it’s not just Trump. Plenty of Republicans have made statements about the dangerous terrorists swarming over the border, with claims that Middle Eastern terrorists were mingling with people coming from Honduras—because all brown people obviously look alike. But then, the Republican lieutenant governor of Texas was already claiming that Islamic prayer mats were littering the Texas countryside in 2014.
In a speech in Washington, D.C., on Friday, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst doubled down on claims that Muslim prayer rugs had been found on the Texas-Mexico border.
“Prayer rugs have recently been found on the Texas side of the border in the brush,” Dewhurst said at the Values Voter Summit, according to a report on Friday by Talking Points Memo, a liberal news site.
There were exactly as many prayer rugs then as there are terrorists now. The biggest threat to America’s southern border isn’t Middle Eastern terrorists. It’s Donald Trump’s wall, and the lawless actions he’s willing to take in order to see it built.