During the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to “shut ... down” illegal entries by terrorists across the Southwest border. That fairly straightforward vow triggered perhaps the dumbest “fact-check” ever, courtesy of the New York Times.
Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I served as then-Chairman Ron DeSantis’ (R-Fla.) staff director on the National Security Subcommittee at the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations from January 2015 to September 2016. If anything, that should simply confirm that both he and I have some experience on these topics.
“G.O.P. Debate Fact-Check: Israel, Abortion and the Economy Dominate”. On November 8 — the day after the debate — the New York Times ran an analysis of the previous night’s claims captioned “G.O.P. Debate Fact-Check: Israel, Abortion and the Economy Dominate”.
Note that “immigration” didn’t “dominate” that debate, because even though it’s the second-leading issue (with a bullet) for voters in the most recent Harvard/Harris poll, the moderators didn’t raise it until 88 minutes into the event, even though the candidates referenced border security repeatedly in response to other questions prior to that point.
“Terrorists Have Come in Through Our Southern Border”. The fact-check in question, however, related to a response DeSantis gave roughly 40 minutes into that debate, in response to a question from Kristen Welker from NBC News about whether the conflict in Ukraine could “become a wider war if Putin is not stopped now”. Here was the governor’s response, in pertinent part:
Well, any suggestion by Zelensky or anyone else that we’re going to eventually have U.S. troops there, I can tell the American people when I’m president, that will not happen. We are not going to send your sons and daughters to Ukraine. I am going to send troops to our southern border. If you look at the threats that we face, terrorists have come in through our southern border. I’m going to shut it down. I’m going to have the military and I’m going to deport the people who’ve come, particularly under Biden, who’ve come from the Middle East, come from all these places. [Emphasis added.]
The Times rated DeSantis’ claim that “terrorists have come in through our southern border” as “false”.
Note that there’s a big difference between DeSantis’ claim that “terrorists have come in through our southern border” and the retort by the Times’ chosen “expert” that “no one has been killed or injured in a terrorist attack in the United States that involved someone who came across the border illegally” since 1975.
DeSantis never claimed that terrorists had crossed the border and killed or injured anyone in the United States — just that they had crossed. In essence, the “expert” responded with a non-sequitur to make a point of his own choosing. That’s fine if you’re participating in a debate yourself, and in fact many of the candidates in the debate in question — and in nearly every debate I’ve ever seen — did the same thing.
“DeSantis’ Military Service as Navy Lawyer for SEAL Commander”. Compare that fact check to an earlier one from FactCheck.org in August, captioned “DeSantis’ Military Service as Navy Lawyer for SEAL Commander”. It analyzed DeSantis’ claims in the first presidential debate that he “was assigned with U.S. Navy SEALs in Iraq” and “deployed to Iraq alongside U.S. Navy SEALs”.
That outlet didn’t even score DeSantis’ claims as “true” or “false”, but instead simply noted:
DeSantis earned his law degree from Harvard and then served in the Navy as a lawyer, or a JAG (Judge Advocate General). His military personnel records, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and posted online by journalist James LaPorta, show that he served on active duty from September 2005 to February 2010, and he was stationed in Iraq with Seal Team 1 from 2007 to 2008.
DeSantis earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service for his time in Iraq.
By the Times’ fact-checking standard of the most recent debate, however, one can imagine DeSantis’ being excoriated for those claims by some other soi-disant expert, arguing that the now-governor’s claim was “false” because he wasn’t slinging lead against insurgents in Fallujah or dragging wounded comrades to safety during firefights — claims he also didn’t make.
169 Illegal Migrants on Terrorist Watchlist Apprehended at Southwest Border in FY 2023. In fact, DeSantis’ claim is dispositively true, and CBP itself admits as much. According to its web page captioned “Enforcement Statistics Fiscal Year 2023”, 169 illegal migrants on the “Terrorist Screening Dataset” — that is the “terrorist watchlist” — were apprehended by Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border in FY 2023, as were 98 others in FY 2022.
In FY 2019, by comparison, agents didn’t apprehend a single watchlist migrant there. If those statistics don’t raise red flags among the “smart set”, perhaps they’re not really that smart.
“ERO New York City Arrests Noncitizen Wanted in Senegal for Terroristic Activities”. By the way, even if you want to expand DeSantis’ claim that “terrorists have come in through our southern border” to read that such terrorists have actually entered illegally and made their way into the country, that’s true, too.
Just read ICE’s October 19 press release captioned “ERO New York City arrests noncitizen wanted in Senegal for terroristic activities”. As I recently reported, it explains how the (unnamed) alien in question was caught after entering illegally in Arizona and was released by CBP even though the agency had no idea what his nationality was. His terror ties were only discovered after he had been at large here for a week.
“CBP Released a Migrant on a Terrorist Watchlist, and ICE Faced Information Sharing Challenges”. Or, if you really want to get freaked out, take a look at a June report from the DHS Office of Inspector General captioned “CBP Released a Migrant on a Terrorist Watchlist, and ICE Faced Information Sharing Challenges Planning and Conducting the Arrest”.
That one is heavily redacted, but it explains that the alien in question entered illegally through Yuma, Ariz., with a child or children as part of a “family unit” on April 17, 2022. Questions were almost immediately raised about whether he was on the terrorist watchlist, and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) asked CBP’s National Targeting Center (NTC) for more information to confirm the hit.
E-mails were misdelivered or not responded to, however, and he was released on April 19, 2022, before TSC could coordinate a response with NTC.
That report explains:
Yuma [CBP central processing center or “CPC”] agents provided two reasons why they processed and transferred the migrant for release before the NTC finished coordinating with the TSC. First, the Yuma CPC did not have an adequate method to flag the paper A-Files for individuals with inconclusive Terrorist Watchlist matches. According to the CPC agents, [big redaction]. Second, the CPC agents explained that the Yuma CPC was over capacity following an increase in apprehensions, which created pressure to quickly process migrants and decreased the time available to review each file. [Emphasis added; footnote omitted.]
Trust me — the United States government has enough resources to detain possible terrorist migrants, but in any event the fact that our national security is dependent on paper files should be enough to set your hair on end.
It gets worse, however, as the watchlist hit was only confirmed two days after he was released, when TSA questioned him as he attempted to board a flight from Palm Springs, Calif., to Tampa, Fla. It’s not clear whether he was allowed to fly to Florida, but in any event, while ICE did arrest the migrant in Tampa, that didn’t happen until more than two weeks later (and after a separate comedy of errors).
German statesman Otto von Bismarck, once remarked: “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.” The Lord was plainly protecting at least two of those parties in this instance.
September 10, 2001. Anyone who dismisses border terrorism concerns of the sort Gov. DeSantis expressed at the last GOP presidential debate is either delusional or blissfully ignorant. It’s true that no American has been killed or injured in a terror attack carried out by an illegal border migrant — yet. No one had been killed by an alien hijacker flying an airliner into a building on September 10, 2001, either.