Fear Mongering and Lying about the Southern Border

by Nick Gier

Encounters of known and suspected terrorists
at our borders are very uncommon.
—U.S. Customs and Border Protection

I was a stranger and you did not take me in,
naked, and you did not clothe me
—Jesus, Matthew 25:42

Donald Trump lies about virtually everything, but he saves his most outrageous falsehoods for the immigrants who are “poisoning the blood of our country.” He calls them “vermin,” an epithet that matches his recent declaration that “they’re not people, in my opinion.”

It started back in 2015 when he claimed that Mexico is sending drug smugglers, criminals, and rapists. The facts, however, are very different. Among the people convicted of trafficking fentanyl in 2021, 86% were American citizens. As the U.S. has the third highest opioid consumption per capita in the world, smugglers certainly know where the need is.

Less Crime among Immigrants

In their book Immigration and Crime Graham Ousey and Charis Kubrin analyzed 20 years of data and they concluded that “long-standing concerns about immigration as a major source of crime are unfounded. In fact, communities with more immigration tend to have less crime, especially violent crimes like homicide.” Homicides in every demographic have plunged after an uptick during the pandemic.

The January update of a 2023 survey using census data led by Stanford University economist Ran Abramitzky found that immigrants over the last 150 years have had lower incarceration rates than the native born and that those rates for immigrants have dropped since 1960.

At a Richmond, Virginia rally, Trump falsely claimed that “prison populations all over the world are at the lowest point they’d been in many decades because they’re dumping their prisoners into our country.” In Rome, Georgia he increased the fear factor by adding “they’re emptying their mental institutions into the U.S.”

Trump Lies about the Undocumented

In his 2016 campaign Trump declared that there were 34 million undocumented people in the country. (The actual number is 11.4 million.) In recent speeches Trump asserts that the number of current border crossings is 20 million. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has counted 7.3 million “border encounters” from January 2021 to December 2023.

83% appear for Asylum Hearings

Trump pulls yet another figure out of the air: he asserts that only 3% of those who claim asylum show up for their court hearings. I’ve looked at several studies and the number of asylum seekers who do report ranges from 83% to 92%. It is essential to note that migrants who report to authorities are not, under the 1980 Refugee Act, illegal aliens.

Biden has Record Number of Deportations

Only 32% of those who complete their asylum hearings are allowed to stay in the country. Most of those denied asylum are those fleeing economic difficulties (not political oppression) in their home countries. I failed to find an estimate of how many economic refugees there are, but they will leave their native countries in much higher numbers as the climate crisis worsens.

Those not meeting asylum criteria are deported, and in fiscal 2023 there were a record number of deportations—ten times the number of those under Trump in fiscal 2020. So much for the charge of “open borders.”

No “Terrorist Rush” at the Border

Trump also lies when he contends that a record number of terrorists have crossed the southern border, and he also fibs when he says that none crossed during his presidency. In fiscal year 2019, 280 terror watchlist migrants were arrested as opposed to 380 during Biden’s last two years.

This is hardly a “terrorist rush” at the border as former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has claimed. A CRP spokesman reported that “encounters of known and suspected terrorists at our borders are very uncommon.”

Chinese Gangs Recruit Migrants

One focus of fear mongering is Asians coming across the border. In a column for the Lewiston Morning Tribune (March 24), Marvin Dugger suggests, without evidence, that 28,000 Chinese of military age are “setting up sleeper cells like the terrorists did before 9/11.” However, there are reports that many of these men are being recruited by American based Chinese gangs instead.

For 60 years Chinese gangs have been involved in racketeering, gambling, and running drugs. Chinese mob bosses are interested in making money, not overthrowing the American government. Some of the gangs have distant origins in pre-Communist China, but, in some cases, they perform surveillance services on suspected Chinese dissidents in the U.S.

ProPublica has uncovered hundreds of illegal marijuana farms from California to Maine that are run by Chinese gangs. After responding to ads and then having their passports and phones confiscated, Chinese migrants work in squalor and terror on these farms. Chinese women sometimes are forced to be sex slaves for gang members.

Chinese Interviewed at the Border

Journalists are interviewing Chinese at the border and they are meeting bankers, professionals, small business owners, and recent college graduates. All of them complain of political oppression and bad economic conditions. Facing an unemployment rate of 21%, the college graduates could not find jobs.

Most of the Chinese migrants had taken the arduous journey through the Darien gap in Panama. Others, however, have paid as much as $14,000 to fly to Tijuana via Ecuador, where visas are not required. For $400 “coyotes” have driven them to the border with their roller bags. Neither these people nor the marijuana workers hardly appear to be potential terrorists.

There are simply no Chinese equivalents to ISIS or Al Qaeda. China prefers to use sophisticated technology to undermine our national security. On January 9, U.S. authorities were able to dismantle a Chinese hacking campaign aimed at disrupting basic infrastructure and interfering in the November election in favor of candidate Trump.

More Concern about Central Asians

Of more serious concern are the 40,000 Central Asians who are now awaiting asylum hearings. Since October 2023, 50 migrants from all countries have been found on the terrorist watchlist and they have been arrested. One from Uzbekistan did in fact have ties to ISIS, and increased surveillance of potential terrorists is of course required.

Domestic Terrorists Far Greater Threat

For some time now studies have shown that domestic terrorism is a far greater threat to national security. Since 2022, according to the Department of Homeland Security, right-wing domestic terrorist organizations have conducted “three fatal attacks in the Homeland resulting in 21 deaths and multiple non-lethal attacks. U.S. law enforcement has disrupted over a half dozen other domestic plots.”

The report continues: “During the same period, only one attack was conducted by an individual inspired by a foreign terrorist organization.” He was a member of Al Qaeda and he is awaiting trial. Significantly, Antifa was not responsible for any attacks.

A survey published in PubMed Central (January 2024) revealed that 41% of MAGA Republicans “strongly or very strongly agreed” that violent measures were necessary to protect the country. (The number for “somewhat agree” was 32%.) This sentiment was in full force in the MAGA attack, backed by Trump, on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

GOP Rejects Bipartisan Border Bill

President Biden has requested funding for 1,300 more border agents, 1,000 more officers to counter drug smuggling, and 1,600 more asylum officers. Major bipartisan legislation that contained most of what Republicans have requested for years was blocked by Trump, who would rather weaponize the issue against Biden and the Democrats.

Jefferson’s Declaration and Immigration

The Declaration of Independence is classic in American political philosophy. In it there is a key element that is constantly overlooked. It states that every human being, not just American citizens, has an inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Also significant is the phrase “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” which is not the biblical deity, but a universal source for rights, morality, and law. (For some founding thinkers God was an impersonal being.) This represents a “natural” theology, and the Apostle Paul hints at this Romans 1:18-21.

Jefferson’s affirmation is that every human person has value and dignity. It also means that no person is illegal by nature. People may commit illegal acts, but they are still treated humanely before the law. This inherent value is at the basis of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” Only in totalitarian regimes, which Trump admires, are people treated like vermin.

Jefferson would have saluted the 1984 U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The George W. Bush administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” will forever be a stain on the nation’s soul. Donald Trump’s support of torture aligns him with the totalitarian states he admires. His election would mean the end of Jefferson’s vision of America.

Nick Gier of Moscow taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. He was coordinator of religious studies from 1980-2003. He was a senior fellow in the Martin Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution from 1990-2000. Read his articles on civil rights at bit.ly/3vPiVD1. Email him at ngier006gmail.com.

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