One day after President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats failed to strike a deal on funding for Trump’s border wall and reopen the federal government, the White House released the PowerPoint presentation Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen prepared to brief Democratic leadership on border security.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), however, reportedly interrupted the presentation, titled “A Border Security and Humanitarian Crisis,” after they objected to what was being discussed.
Nielsen tweeted that she was “disappointed” Democrats did not want hear from DHS about the “security and humanitarian crisis” of “criminal aliens” at the border.
I am disappointed that Dems did not want to hear from @DHSgov about the security & humanitarian crisis we are facing at the border. They didn’t want to hear about criminal aliens, drug smugglers, smuggled & abused children or violent caravans trying to breach the border wall.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) January 3, 2019
“The crisis is not going away — it is getting worse. The status quo in funding & authorities for #DHS is irresponsible & makes our country less secure. Kicking the can down the road is not the answer,” she added in a second tweet. “I look forward to engaging w Members who want to listen & be part of the solution.
Taking a look a the presentation, it is easy to see why Pelosi and Schumer chose not to participate in Nielsen’s briefing. It utilizes inflated numbers to justify its fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrants.
According to the first slide, the only way to address the influx of “drugs, criminals, gangs, and terrorists” coming across the U.S.-Mexico border is to build a physical border wall.
To bolster their claims, DHS cites data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that suggests a dramatic increase in the amount of illegal drugs seized at the southern border. According to the data, 1.7 million pounds of narcotics were seized by CBP in FY18.
CBP’s own website, however, shows substantially lower figures — only 47,945 lbs of cocaine, as opposed to 282,000 lbs, and 67,292 lbs of methamphetamine instead of 248,000 lbs.
CBP’s website also shows that these drugs are arriving in the U.S. through ports of entry, meaning Trump’s multi-billion dollar wall along the border will not prevent illegal drugs from entering the country.
“The most common method employed by Mexican TCOs [Transnational Criminal Organizations] involves transporting drugs in vehicles through U.S. ports of entry (POEs),” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported in a 2016 assessment. “Illicit drugs are smuggled into the United States in concealed compartments within passenger vehicles or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.”
The presentation also reflects the administration’s ongoing effort to label all Central American immigrants as gang affiliated. According to the PowerPoint, 17,000 adult migrants with “existing criminal records” were arrested by CBP last year.
As Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council points out, labeling all 17,000 immigrants as criminals is a lie by omission, considering the number could include individuals whose only criminal infraction is illegal entry into the U.S.
DHS also claims to have prevented 3,755 “known or suspected terrorists” from traveling to or entering the U.S., but the agency has never provided the data before. Additionally, the number applies to mostly air travel and is not exclusive to the southern border.
In a Friday press conference in the Rose Garden, Nielsen described the 3,755 individuals as having “travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism.”
The Trump administration has never shied away from conflating terrorism and immigration. In a controversial report issued a year ago, the Justice Department implied a link between terrorism in the U.S. and the country’s current immigration policies by providing misleading data out of context. The report was written to accompany Trump’s March 2017 Muslim Ban.
Several government watchdog and civil liberty groups sued the Justice Department, seeking a retraction or correction, but the agency refused. Rather than retract or correct the document, “in future reports, the department can strive to minimize the potential for misinterpretation,” according to a letter Michael H. Allen, deputy assistant attorney general for policy, management, and planning, wrote to the groups.
On the final slide, DHS suggests overturning the Flores Settlement Agreement, which prohibits the government from detaining minors indefinitely and requires minors are supplied with basic needs like access to food, water, and medical assistance. The administration has argued that overturning Flores is necessary because it prevents families from being separated, but without Flores, immigrant families would be detained together while their cases go through the court system, allowing for indefinite detention.
Even without the proposed rule change, the number of migrant children in detention has skyrocketed under the Trump administration.
The administration also suggested in the PowerPoint that amending the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which protects migrant children who arrive in the U.S. without parents, could be a solution to the “crisis” at the border. In practice, amending the legislation would allow unaccompanied minors to be swiftly deported and sent back to dangerous and even life-threatening living conditions.
These falsehoods are the basis of the Trump administration’s justification for the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, now entering its third week. During Friday’s Rose Garden press conference, Trump and key members of his administration doubled down on this fear-mongering rhetoric and threatened to prolong the shutdown for months or even years if the $5 billion for the border wall is not secured.