- Republicans have been portraying a surge in migrants at the border as a potential terror threat.
- Trump also sought to tie illegal immigration to terrorism, despite little to no evidence.
- The threat of terrorism in the US is largely homegrown, according to research and law enforcement.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
As record numbers of unaccompanied minors turn up at southern border, congressional Republicans are echoing dubious claims from former President Donald Trump about terrorists attempting to cross into the US from Mexico.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday told reporters that border agents he met on a trip to Texas claimed suspected terrorists are attempting to cross the border. McCarthy provided no evidence to back up this incendiary assertion.
“You saw it in their eyes,” the California Republican said of the agents. “They talked about, ‘They’re on the list.’ … The terrorist watch list.”
“We asked them what countries are people coming from,” McCarthy said. “Yemen, Iran, Sri Lanka – that’s what’s coming across. They even talked about Chinese, as well.”
-Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 15, 2021
GOP Rep. John Katko of New York, who joined McCarthy for the border visit, also spoke with reporters on Monday.
“People they’ve caught in the last few days … have been on the terror watch lists,” he said. “Individuals that they have on the watch list for terrorism are now starting to exploit the Southern border.”
In February, 11 Iranian nationals were arrested in Arizona after illegally crossing the border. But Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not publicly reported any recent arrests of suspected terrorists at the US-Mexico border to back up the statements from McCarthy and Katko.
On Tuesday, Axios reported CBP told members of Congress four people arrested at the southern border since October match names on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database. Three were reportedly from Yemen and one from Serbia.
CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Democrats on McCarthy’s terrorism comments: ‘Either wrong or lying’
Democrats have responded to McCarthy’s assertions with skepticism.
“Weird as the Chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations and a border state member of Congress haven’t heard anything about this,” Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona tweeted. “Gonna ask for a briefing.”
Gallego said he’s “pretty sure” McCarthy is “either wrong or lying.”
Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, whose district includes El Paso, accused McCarthy of “fueling” xenophobia with his comments.
This is part of Trump’s playbook
In the past, Trump made unsubstantiated claims about terrorists from the Middle East crossing the border.
“We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left,” Trump said in January 2019.
But a September 2018 report from the State Department contradicted Trump. The report, released during Trump’s second year as president, said there’s “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
“The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to potential terrorist transit, although terrorist groups likely seek other means of trying to enter the United States,” the report added.
Republicans are trying to breed fear via imaginary dangers while ignoring actual threats
Despite the lack of evidence to support the notion that illegal immigration opens the door for terrorism in the US in a major way, top Republicans have consistently pushed this groundless talking point.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Trump’s, in comments to Fox News in early March baselessly suggested that undocumented migrant children could become “terrorists.”
But every lethal jihadist terror attack in the US since 9/11 was carried out by a legal resident or citizen, except in one instance involving someone in the US as part of a US-Saudi military training partnership, according to an analysis from the New America think tank.
Indeed, the threat of terrorism in the US is largely homegrown and primarily emanates from far-right extremist groups. The problem came to the forefront of the country’s attention via the Capitol attack on January 6, which subsequently led more National Guard troops to be stationed in the nation’s capital for President Joe Biden’s inauguration than the total number of US troops currently in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
In testimony to the Senate on March 2, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers “when it comes to racially motivated violent extremism” the number of investigations and arrests “has grown significantly on my watch.”
Correspondingly, a Homeland Security report released in October 2020 pointed to white supremacists as “the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.”
But Republicans in Congress have consistently downplayed or ignored the threat of far-right extremism.