During an interview with The Ralph Bailey Show on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy attempted to explain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program scale-back, immigration, and the debate over the southern border to a political science professor from California State University, Bakersfield. The professor just didn’t understand the issues with immigration, how border patrol operates, or why Mexico was so dangerous, McCarthy claimed. “Have you ever been to the border?” he asked.
There was just one problem: the professor to whom McCarthy was speaking— Mark Martinez—had indeed been to the border. In fact, Martinez had previously taught graduate studies in Mexico at the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro, hundreds of miles south of the border and has a wide breadth of knowledge in political development, international relations, and American foreign policy.
“Mark, have you spent any time with the border agents, down along the border?” McCarthy asked, in response to accusations that he and many Republicans were feeding the racist components of President Trump’s base by pushing the idea of a wall and deporting DACA recipients. “Have you asked what’s coming across? Have you watched the amount of drugs, have you [seen] the tunnels from [Mexico]?”
“Absolutely,” Martinez replied. “Kevin, I’ve lived in Mexico. Have you ever lived in Mexico, Kevin?”
To his credit, McCarthy managed to smooth over the gaffe, ignoring the professor’s questions and choosing instead to deflect by moving on to a new topic: ISIS militants hauling bombs across the southern border to terrorize Americans.
“If you look at the intelligence reports, for those in the Middle East that want to do America harm, they talk about [how] the number one way to do it is to get a suitcase bomb and come across the border illegally,” he said. McCarthy also claimed President Obama had signed orders saying that Border Patrol agents were “not even allowed to use motorized vehicles.” (McCarthy appeared to be inaccurately describing Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) rules that protect certain wilderness areas from being damaged by construction or vehicles. GOP efforts to dismantle those rules failed in 2014.)
On this point, McCarthy was also mistaken. Rumors about ISIS militants infiltrating the country through the southern border popped up back in 2014, after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) claimed during an interview with Fox News that “at least 10 ISIS fighters [had] been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas.” Hunter claimed he had heard the reports from Border Patrol agents and that “there’s going to be dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol.” A senior official from the Department of Homeland Security later debunked Hunter’s claims, calling them “categorically false.”
“DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border,” the official stated.
On Tuesday, Martinez criticized McCarthy’s faulty claims, pointing out that his arguments in favor of rolling back DACA and building a border wall—President Trump’s pet cause—were moot.
“It’s going to do nothing to make this country more secure,” he said, referring to the wall specifically. “The issue that we have with the people who are coming across has nothing to do with terrorism. It has nothing to do with making our country safer. [You’re only] feeding a rabid political base.”
McCarthy had spoken out against DACA and in favor of increased border measures earlier in the week, after the Trump administration announced it intends to end the DACA program. McCarthy praised the move, blasting the Obama administration for ever implementing DACA in the first place.
“President Obama was wrong to try to make immigration law by executive order like he did with DACA and DAPA,” McCarthy said in a statement. “It is Congress’s role and responsibility to make immigration law and I believe this is an issue that Congress needs to address. Over the next few months, I will continue to work closely with my colleagues so we can strengthen border security and fix our broken immigration system.”