Six migrants in terrorism database stopped at US-Mexico border in first half of fiscal 2018: report

Meanwhile, 41 individuals classified as non-U.S. persons were stopped at the northern border

By Nicole Karlis
January 8, 2019 3:15AM (UTC)
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(AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Herika Martinez/Salon)

The Trump administration has been relying on what appears to be contradicting data points in their effort to gain support for a multi-billion dollar wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We know that roughly – nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Sunday during an appearance on Fox News. "And we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border."


That misstatement about the threat of terrorism posed to Americans by migrants trying to illegally cross the southern border prompted the host of Fox News Sunday to fact check the Trump aide in real time.

"Wait, I know this statistic," Wallace replied. "I didn't know if you were going to use it, but I studied up on this. Do you know where those 4,000 people come, where they're captured? Airports. Airports. The State Department says there hasn't been any terrorists that they found coming across the southern border from Mexico."

Indeed, data obtained by NBC News from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection departments brings forth more information that contradicts statements made by administration officials. The broadcaster reports:


"U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data obtained by NBC News."

In an earlier NBC News fact check, the media outlet explained that "the figure [Sanders] seems to be citing is based on 2017 data, not 2018, and refers to stops made by Department of Homeland Security across the globe, mainly at airports."

Between Oct. 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were reportedly confronted at the southern border, but "35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents." That leaves a mere six people who were classified as non-U.S. persons, according to NBC News.

On the northern border, where President Donald Trump has not proposed erecting a wall, 91 people who were listed on the database were stopped. Forty-one of them were classified as non-U.S. persons.


As NBC News explains, a name on the list does not mean that person could be criminally charged under terrorism statutes. It is also possible that a person who was stopped has the same name as another individual on the list. The database is comprised of people whom the U.S. believes could have connections to terrorist networks based on family ties, travel patterns or other activities. In other words, not everyone on the list is actually a terrorist.

Trump has repeated his threat to declare a national emergency as a way of using his executive power in an effort to circumvent Congress and obtain the $5.7 billion the president claims is necessary to secure America's borders – a move that is sure to be greeted by legal challenges. The president has planned a national address to the nation Tuesday evening, which will be followed by a trip to the southern border Thursday.


As of 7 p.m. ET on Monday, the roughly eight-minute speech was confirmed to be broadcast by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and the Fox Business Network, according to the Washington Post. "Four years ago, all the broadcast networks declined to air a primetime address on immigration from President Barack Obama because its content was considered too 'overtly political,'" the Daily Beast reported.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have demanded equal air time for Democrats to respond to the administration's claims of a national security crisis at the southern border. “Now that the television networks have decided to air the president’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” the pair said in a joint statement.

Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a staff writer at Salon. She covers health, science, tech and gender politics. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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