The White House, in making its case that the southern border is a magnet for terrorists and must be protected with a 1,000-mile wall, has argued in recent days that thousands of people who appear on the government’s terror watch list have been apprehended crossing into the country illegally.
The argument is wildly inaccurate and represents a significant departure for Republicans who have killed efforts to prevent people on that same list from getting guns.
In the wake of mass shootings in 2016 and 2018, influential Republicans and the National Rifle Association loudly criticized bipartisan proposals to stop those in the Terrorist Screening Database from buying guns.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, justified the Senate’s rejection of one such bill in June 2016 weeks after a massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“Our colleagues want to make this about gun control when what we should be making this about is the fight to eliminate the Islamic extremism that is the root cause for what happened in Orlando,” Cornyn said.
The gunman had been on the terror watch list from 2013 to 2014.
In the wake of the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., a bipartisan group of senators introduced a similar bill — the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
In 2016, the NRA said it would not change its stance against a ban, preferring the status quo in which the government could object to gun sales if it wanted, glossing over the fact that rejections were exceedingly rare. In fact, the NRA was more concerned with those on the list, arguing that “due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.”
On Sunday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a Fox News interview that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally. And we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.”
But Fox host Chris Wallace refuted that, citing a State Department study released in September that found “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
In fact, virtually all of the 3,755 suspected or known terrorists who were stopped from entering the U.S. in the 2017 fiscal year were nabbed at airports, not at the southern border, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security.
According to a separate 2018 report from the Homeland Security and Justice departments, 85 percent of the 2,554 individuals in the Terror Screening Database that DHS agents encountered in 2017 were stopped at airports.
President Donald Trump is set to deliver a prime-time address tonight to declare a crisis on the southern border to justify the partial government shutdown that has furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers and impacted everything from airport screening to national park bathrooms.
Trump has said he will not reopen the shuttered parts of the government until Congress agrees to pay more than $5 billion for a wall on much of the southern border.
Since Trump announced his 2016 presidential bid, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico — and not taxpayers — would fund the wall, a promise he and congressional Republicans seemingly abandoned.