(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The Department of Homeland Security’s “Fact Sheet” on terrorism at the Southern Border uses misleading statements and outright falsehoods about immigrants to try to justify President Trump’s border wall. On January 7, 2019, DHS published a document titled “Myth/Fact Sheet: Known and Suspected Terrorists/Special Interest Aliens,” which purported to lay out the facts regarding security concerns at the Southern Border. The document was released after a week in which Administration officials, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Secretary Nielsen, made misleading or outright false claims about the rate of terrorists crossing the Southern Border.
The Information Quality Act requires that government documents be accurate, objective, and useful to the public. But the “Fact Sheet” falls far short of those requirements:
DHS CLAIMS: “The threat is real. The number of terror-watchlisted individuals encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years. The exact number is sensitive and details about these cases are extremely sensitive.”
REALITY: The threat is exaggerated at best. DHS’s misleading scare tactic hides behind disingenuous claims that information is “sensitive,” when DHS knows that the number of terrorists crossing the Southern Border is negligible, and that any increase is from zero or nearly zero to around six apprehensions. In fact, the number of potential terrorists who have crossed the Southern Border is so low that it has been described by the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center as “much more of a theoretical vulnerability than an actual one.”
DHS CLAIMS: “This does not mean that all SIAs are “terrorists,” but rather that the travel and behavior of such individuals indicates a possible nexus to nefarious activity (including terrorism) and, at a minimum, provides indicators that necessitate heightened screening and further investigation. The term SIA does not indicate any specific derogatory information about the individual – and DHS has never indicated that the SIA designation means more than that.”
REALITY: This claim is false. On January 4, Secretary Nielsen was asked about terrorism and answered: “CBP has stopped over 3,000, what we call, special-interest aliens trying to come into the country on the southern border. Those are aliens who either have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns, or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism. They either have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns, or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism.”
Clearly, DHS has used the term SIA to mean terrorism, and labeled that population as known or suspected terrorists, when in reality, few are. For this fact sheet to argue that DHS and Secretary Nielsen have not done so is simply incorrect.
DHS CLAIMS: “The bottom line is that significant numbers of threat actors have attempted, and continue to attempt, to enter the United States surreptitiously and without authority.”
REALITY: DHS is using ambiguous language to mislead the public. The “Fact Sheet” followed a week of White House and DHS statements focused purely on the threat deriving from terrorists crossing the Southern Border, so even close readers might be misled into thinking that’s who they mean.
In that light, the government’s own statements and data do not support the claim that “significant numbers of threat actors”—which we should understand to mean terrorists—“have attempted and will continue to attempt, to enter the United States” via the Southern Border. In fact, according to Justice Department public records and two former counterterrorism officials, ZERO immigrants have been arrested at the Southern Border on terrorism charges in recent years.
Along with RAICES and Muslim Advocates, we filed a petition on January 10 to demand that DHS correct and retract this unlawfully misleading document. Our action follows a recent admission by the Department of Justice, in response to a separate IQA petition filed by Democracy Forward and Muslim Advocates, that a terrorism report it jointly released with DHS contained a number of misleading assertions about immigrants—particularly Muslim immigrants. Multiple senators have since called for correction and retraction of that fact sheet.
DHS is required to respond to our petition by March 11, 2019.