President Donald Trump on Friday sought to prop up his administration’s claims that migrants who enter the U.S. illegally at the southern border don’t come from only Mexico and Central America, in an attempt to justify his demands for a border wall.
Trump cited a story from conservative news outlet the Washington Examiner in which an unnamed rancher living in New Mexico claimed to have found “prayer rugs,” or pieces of carpet used by Muslims for prayer, near her property.
The story does not include any first-person accounts of seeing such migrants, however. U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Arizona said recently that it had arrested migrants from seven countries trying to enter the U.S. illegally there, but none of the countries it named were majority Muslim.
Trump, however, indicated the story supports his administration’s argument that people are crossing the southern border from many countries.
He has also claimed that terrorists are crossing the border there, though he did not mention it in the tweet Friday. The State Department has said there is no credible evidence terrorist groups send operatives across the Mexican border.
“Border rancher: ‘We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal.’ Washington Examiner People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise,” Trump wrote in the tweet, appearing to use it as evidence to support his claims.
CBP did not immediately respond to questions about the natures of the arrests mentioned in its tweet this week. Nor did it respond to requests for comment for the Examiner’s story, which rests on solely secondhand accounts from residents who said they were aware of migrants from places outside of Central America and Mexico entering the U.S. through its southern border.
In a video accompanying the article, the rancher — who was granted anonymity “for fear of retaliation by cartels who move the individuals” — said that though she doesn’t “have any proof” of her claims and has “never seen any Middle Easterners” near the border herself, she says she has been told by trusted Border Patrol agents and has seen what she said were prayer rugs.
“There’s a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico,” she told the Examiner. “People, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist facts of that. That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming over.”
She also says that “the percentage of what Border Patrol classifies as OTMs [other than Mexicans] has really increased in the last couple years, but drastically within the last six months. Chinese, Germans, Russians, a lot of Middle Easterners, those Czechoslovakians they caught over on our neighbor’s just last summer.”
The article cites a second rancher in the same New Mexico town whose neighbor said they found migrants from the Philippines on their property last year.
The president has caught heat for his repeated suggestions that “terrorists” like Islamic State militants could sneak into the U.S. through the border with Mexico because of a lack of the extensive border wall he has promised to build.
A quarter of the federal government has been shut down for close to a month over the issue, as lawmakers resist his demands to appropriate funding for his border wall. Trump has sought to paint a recent influx of migrants at the border as a humanitarian crisis as well as a national security issue, claiming without evidence that caravans of asylum-seeking migrants are flush with criminals.
He has also been criticized for making generalizations about the Muslim faith, railing against “radical Islamic terrorism” throughout his campaign and his presidency and instituting early on a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries that he later watered down.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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