The right got whipped into a frenzy over an “EXCLUSIVE” report from Breitbart: “8 Syrians Caught at Texas Border,” the headline screamed. Those same words are currently emblazoned across the home page of The Drudge Report, accompanied by a photo of President Obama.
“Eight Syrian illegal aliens attempted to enter Texas from Mexico” and were “apprehended at the Juarez Lincoln Bridge in Laredo, Texas….” Breitbart breathlessly wrote.
Breitbart’s Brandon Darby and Ildefonso Ortiz described the Syrians as traveling in “two separate ‘family units’” but did not reveal anything else about their identities.
The report was enough for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to use the incident as justification for his vow to prevent any Syrian refugees from entering his state:
Donald Trump took this argument about 1,000 steps further on Thursday morning when he tweeted the news along with some baseless speculation that the people caught were members of ISIS. He also took the opportunity to push for that “big and beautiful wall” he’s always talking about:
As if that wasn’t enough, Trump fired off one of his signature Instagram videos a couple of hours later.
“Syrians are now being caught at the Southern border, just like I said,” Trump intoned from his office. “They’re going to be pouring in, don’t know who they are, could be ISIS. We need a new president fast.”
It’s all bullshit.
In an update to the original piece, Breitbart claimed it had “confirmed” the story via a statement from the Department of Homeland Security that was first reported by NBC News’s local Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate.
The statement contains two key facts that were missing from the earlier report.
DHS confirms that on Tuesday, members of two Syrian families, two men, two women and four children, presented themselves at a port of entry in Laredo. They were taken into custody by CBP and turned over to ICE for further processing. The two adult women and four children were transferred to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. The two men from these families are being held at the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall Texas. Due to privacy issues, no additional information will be provided at this time.
First, six of the Syrians were women and children, a fact that Breitbart and Trump conveniently left out.
Second, they did not try to sneak into the U.S., but rather “presented themselves” to border agents in a likely attempt to seek asylum. In other words, they were not so much “caught” but rather turned themselves in.
The source that fed this erroneous information to Breitbart in the first place is the Hector Garza, the president of a Laredo chapter of the National Border Patrol Council—the same man who invited Trump to tour the border in July to get a “boots on the ground perspective.” Ultimately, the union forced Garza to “pull out of” any and all Trump-related events and clarify that the organization was not endorsing Trump.
In some ways, Trump is just following the lead of House Republicans, who put forward a bill this week that would make it nearly impossible for Iraqi or Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. any time in the near future. That bill passed in the House on Thursday with just two Republicans voting against it, but it is unlikely to become law.
"Given the lives at stake and the critical importance to our partners in the Middle East and Europe of American leadership in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, if the President were presented with H.R. 4038, he would veto the bill,” the White House said in a statement.
If Trump had bothered to gather the facts about the border arrest before sounding off about it on social media, he may have realized that it is not the fool-proof fear-mongering tool he so desperately wants it to be.
Instead, even three hours after NBC reported the DHS statement, Trump was still engaging in this disgraceful attempt to tie the Paris attacks to his anti-immigration policy: