While piloting the fledgling New York Mets to an historically awful season in 1962, their colorful manager Casey Stengel at one point exasperatedly asked “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Or something like it.
An Associated Press (AP) report yesterday makes clear that the same question needs to keep being asked about the Trump administration’s intertwined immigration and border security policies. The article provided the latest batch of evidence supporting an administration claim about the threat of terrorists entering the United States across the southern border that the President and his aides have repeatedly undercut by incompetently presenting the facts.
The most recent controversy about the terrorism-immigration connection erupted in early January, when, according to press reports, former (and later fired) Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with Congressional leaders to lobby for Mr. Trump’s border wall proposal. Her pitch, according to the reports, used the claim that, during the past year, 3,000 terrorists were among those apprehended by border officials as they tried to cross into the nation from Mexico.
The claim was so easily debunked that even supporters of much more restrictive U.S. immigration policies were left shaking their heads. But as explained in this post from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a related terrorism-immigration threat does warrant major concern – including wall-building – even though the Trump administration rarely mentions it and even on those occasions often botches the matter. It’s the demonstrable presence in groups of would-be border crossers of migrants from countries and regions where terrorism is all too common, including the Middle East and North Africa and their large numbers of jihadists; and/or of migrants on federal terrorist watch lists.
The numbers of actual terrorists even in these often overlapping groups apparently aren’t large in absolute terms. But as observed by CIS’ Todd Bensman, a former Texas State counter-terrorism official, “in this threat realm, small numbers portend major consequences. Just ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as she heads for the exit over just a relative few migrants who committed terror attacks in her country after entering among the million migrants she admitted.”
And this is where the new AP story comes in. According to correspondent Mark Stevenson,
“Thousands fleeing conflict or poverty in Nigeria, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Haiti and Cuba have traveled across oceans, through the jungles and mountains of South America, up through Central America, on a route that — so far — ends here: the steamy, crumbling Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border.”
Why did they try to enter the United States this way? Stevenson quotes a migrant rights supporter as explaining that stating that their presence owes to the fact that
“word quickly spread through international smuggling networks that Mexico had become more permissive for migrants. Attention drawn to the large caravans meandering north to the U.S. last year, combined with Mexico’s fast-track for thousands of humanitarian visas in January, appeared like welcome mats on the global stage. At the same time, it became more difficult for migrants in Asia or Africa to reach Europe.”
The non-Western Hemisphere migrants interviewed by Stevenson all claimed to be fleeing poverty, violence, and persecution in their home countries, and no doubt many and even most are telling the truth. But how on earth can this be reliably determined? Assuming these individuals have national documentation, do Nigeria, Cameroon, and Bangladesh, for example, really have governments remotely capable of identifying their populations with any precision? Can a reporter verify their stories? Also disturbing: Stevenson’s interviewees were all single men.
On the one hand, the length of the journeys they say they have taken surely complicates the task of bringing along family members, and especially children. At the same time, it’s single men who commit the lion’s share of the terrorist acts and crimes against women that have generated such a backlash in Europe and – to a much lesser extent so far – in the United States.
As noted by Bensman, the former Texas counter-terrorism official, the Trump administration could easily clear up the confusion it has helped create by securing the release of the correct numbers as kept by the FBI and Homeland Security’s National Counterterrorism Center, and by reporting them accurately. But weirdly, the administration has not only declined to take these obvious steps. It’s resisting CIS efforts to force the release of these data through the Freedom of Information Act. In fact, ten days ago, CIS sued the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to make the data public.
Let’s all hope this legal action succeeds, or that the Trump administration stops the obstruction. Keeping the nation safe from terrorism is too important an objective to tolerate big unforced official errors continuing.