On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence deployed lies and gaslighting to defend President Donald Trump’s racist, baseless, fear-mongering claim that there are “Middle Eastern” people in the migrant caravan currently heading through Mexico toward the U.S. border.
“It’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border,” Pence said, during an event in Washington, D.C. “We apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our southern border from countries that are referred to in the lexicon as ‘other than Mexico’ — that means, from the Middle East region.”
Pence’s claim that the federal government “apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our southern border” is false. It’s even further from the truth than a similar claim he made in February, when he said that he “learned yesterday at the Hidalgo border center that along the southern border of the United States, we actually still apprehend 1,100 individuals a day, who are attempting to enter this country illegally, including seven individuals a day who are either known or suspected terrorists.”
Poltifact rated Pence’s February claim as “Pants on Fire.” Its fact-check noted that according to government data, Homeland Security does indeed stop about seven people each day on a terrorist watch list from entering the United States, but the vast majority of those cases are people who are prevented from getting on airplanes. Less than one person per day on average was stopped trying to enter by land.
Secondly, Pence’s claim that migrants originating from countries “other than Mexico” are necessarily “from the Middle East region” is transparently false. For instance, Japan and Australia — or Ecuador and El Salvador — are countries that are not Mexico, but are also not in the “Middle East region.”
Pence’s comments represent a desperate attempt to defend what Trump told reporters on Monday, when he advised them to “go into the middle of the caravan, take your camera and search.”
“You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything,” Trump said. “And guess what, we’re not allowing them in our country.”
Trump claims, without evidence, that if journalists "took cameras" into the migrant caravan, "You're going to find MS-13, you're going to find Middle Eastern, you're going to find everything. And guess what, we're not allowing the them in our country." pic.twitter.com/Z8TLsqotnn
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 22, 2018
Trump’s comments came hours after he pushed a similarly evidence-free conspiracy theory in a tweet.
Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
In truth, as ThinkProgress explained, the vast majority of people traveling with the caravan are mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons from Central American countries like Nicaragua and Honduras who are are making the dangerous journey north to escape desperate conditions in their native countries.
And above all, both Pence and Trump seem to forget that traveling to the U.S. border and claiming asylum at a port of entry is legal.