Senator Cites Ebola, ISIS, And Drug Cartels As Reasons To Oppose ‘Amnesty’


As fear mounts over the prospect of an Ebola outbreak or domestic terror attack, lawmakers and candidates are seizing on the opportunity to link that hysteria to immigration policy. In the latest claim, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said in Wednesday night’s Senate debate in Kansas, that Ebola, Islamic jihadists (better known by the acronym ISIS), drug cartels, and convicted felons could all make their way into the United States if we don’t do more to secure the border and end “amnesty.”

Responding to the first debate question from a Wichita reporter who asked how Roberts and his opponent Greg Orman (I) would deal with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have left Latin America, Roberts launched into an impassioned speech saying, “we have ISIS. We have Ebola. We have to secure the border.” He later added that “drug cartels” and “convicted felons” could also make their way into the United States.

QUESTION: More than 66,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the U.S. border since last October. What should the U.S. do with these children?

ROBERTS: The first thing we have to do is secure the border. The second thing we have to do is — there is a bill that the house passed that changes the law that says all other countries will be similar to that of Mexico and Canada. If you come across illegally, I’m sorry, You have to go back. Humanitarian repatriation. It was the President himself that said people 16 and under can stay that led to this onslaught, this humanitarian tragedy.

But let me go back to the border. There should not be any amnesty. We have 167,000 convicted felons just admitted to by the Department of Homeland Security that are illegal in the United States. We have ISIS. We have Ebola. We have to secure the border. And we cannot have amnesty.

Though Roberts eventually conceded that the United States would be unlikely to deport migrant kids already in the country, he also repeatedly lobbied for border security. “All this stops when you consider we have to secure the border,” Roberts said. “That is the first thing. In addition with Ebola, ISIS, and whoever comes across the border, the 167,000 illegals who are convicted felons, that shows you we have to secure the border and we cannot support amnesty.”


For his part, Orman, who won the coin toss to answer first, said that the flow of children must be “addressed at its source” by sending people to the three Central American countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where the bulk of migrant children are coming from. He also lobbied for a humane immigration system.

Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently jested that lawmakers who are able to group those keywords Ebola, ISIS, and Mexican drug cartels could hit the conservative-leaning “Fox News Trifecta,” thus giving airtime to real fears and enough material to spin the message for days. That kitchen sink approach has seemed to stick, with some officials — mainly on the right — coupling some of those issues to undercut efforts at immigration reform.

Most recently, an anti-immigrant group released a campaign ad interspersing a photo of the American journalist James Foley who was beheaded by Islamic militants with infrared footage of men purportedly running up to a fence. A voiceover then warns that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is “ignoring our border crisis” and calls on her to “secure our border now.”

Last week, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) claimed that Islamic State could “collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico.” Others like Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott, Arizona House of Representative State Rep. Andy Tobin (R), and a Texas sheriff, have said that Islamic fundamentalists could somehow penetrate the border. Other lawmakers like Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) have linked Ebola to the border.

Despite the fearmongering talking point, at least three Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials have repeatedly assured the public that there has been no credible threat that Islamic jihadists have infiltrated the United States by land or are even operating out of Mexico. That claim was originally picked up by the conservative website WND in July, which said that Islamic jihadists could sneak into the United States through the southern border. Around August, the frenzy over Muslim fundamentalists at the border reached a fever pitch when a border agent allegedly found a prayer rug (it turned out to be an Adidas shirt).


Roberts’ claim that the Obama administration released 167,000 convicted felons also distorts the facts, echoing previous allegations by immigration-restrictionist groups. That figure, originally disseminated by the Center for Immigration Studies, provides no information about the type of crime immigrants committed — especially crucial information given that the definition for criminal offenses can range from anything like aggravated felonies down to misdemeanors involving offenses like marijuana possession. As Benjamin Johnson, executive director at the American Immigration Council, pointed out during the last iteration of the allegation, “being released is not the equivalent of being set free. Being released from ICE custody often means being issued a notice to appear in court, released with an ankle bracelet or released under an order of supervision.”

Still, at the same time that Roberts, a member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, has criticized the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak, he skipped out on a joint hearing with public health officials on the matter this week. Robert’s campaign manager Corry Bliss wrote in a statement to a NBC news affiliate “you don’t need to sit in a hearing room to understand the President’s failure to address the Ebola crisis and protect the American public or to see that we lack a clear and coordinated plan to deal with a very real threat to the United States.”