The Trump administration keeps getting called out for misleadingly linking migrants at the US-Mexico border with terrorism

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Associated Press/Alex Brandon

President Donald Trump turns to depart after speaking on the South Lawn of the White House as he walks from Marine One, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Washington. Trump returned from a trip to Camp David.

  • The Trump administration has sparked backlash in recent days over several false or misleading statements connecting migrants at the US-Mexico border with terrorism.
  • Trump said Friday that terrorists are "coming through the southern border because they find that's probably the easiest place to come through."
  • But government data shows that just six "known or suspected terrorists" entered the US that way - it's far more common that they arrive in airports, or even through the Canadian border.
  • President Donald Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, even conceded that Trump administration officials had erred in their statistics. "Everybody makes mistakes - all of us," she said.

The Trump administration has come under fire in recent days for falsely claiming that 4,000 "known or suspected terrorists" were arrested crossing the US-Mexico border last year. In reality, just six were stopped in the first half of 2018.

The exaggeration didn't end there - President Donald Trump himself appeared in the White House's Rose Garden on Friday to talk up his proposed border wall and tell reporters that terrorists are streaming through the US-Mexico border.Advertisement

"I talk about human traffickers, I talk about drugs and gangs, but a lot of people don't say we have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that's probably the easiest place to come through," he said.

Read more: Trump goes off the rails in freewheeling news conference raging about the shutdown, the border wall, DACA, and Democrats

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen backed him up, saying 3,000 "special interest aliens" with potential terror links were arrested at the southern border.

But reporters quickly pushed back, noting that "special interest aliens" aren't terrorists, and they're not even on the terror watchlist. In many cases, they're travelers coming into the US from countries with a history of terror attacks, or people whose travel patterns are deemed "suspicious," according to the Department of Homeland Security's own definition.

But the incident sparked something of a trend, with Trump administration officials repeatedly making outlandish or hyperbolic statements about terrorism at the southern border that haven't held up to scrutiny.

A 'sensitive' number of terror-watchlisted migrants

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Associated Press/Jacquelyn Martin

President Donald Trump listens as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House after a meeting with Congressional leaders on border security, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, at the White House in Washington.


Nielsen was met with mockery and skepticism on Monday after tweeting that a growing number of known and suspected terrorists are reaching the southern border, but refusing to say how many.

"The threat is real. The number of terror-watchlisted encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years," she said. "The exact number is sensitive and details about these cases are extremely sensitive."

Critics derided the tweets, noting that US Customs and Border Protection has already provided that data to Congress, and the numbers were small.Advertisement

NBC News reported Monday that the data provided to Congress revealed that just 132 known or suspected terrorists were intercepted at American borders in the first half of fiscal year 2018. Of those, 91 were stopped at the US-Canada border, and just 41 were stopped at the US-Mexico border.

Of those 41 at the southern border, 35 were already US citizens. Just six immigrants identified as known or suspected terrorists were blocked from crossing the US-Mexico border in the first half of 2018.

Nielsen argued that even a small number of suspected terrorists was significant.Advertisement

"I am sure all Americans would agree that one terrorist reaching our borders is one too many," she tweeted. "These are just the terror suspects we know about who reach our border."

Where the 4,000 'known or suspected terrorists' figure came from

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Associated Press/Evan Vucci

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders walks off after speaking with reporters about the government shutdown outside the White House, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Washington.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also challenged on Sunday by Fox News host Chris Wallace, after she said nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists enter the US illegally, and "our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border."Advertisement

Wallace cut her off, correcting that the vast majority of those individuals never came near the southern border.

"Do you know where those 4,000 people come from? Where they are captured?" Wallace said. "Airports."The Trump administration has sought to walk back some of its claims in the wake of the backlash. Kellyanne Conway, Trump's senior adviser, conceded Monday evening to Fox News host Laura Ingraham that the 4,000 figure hadn't referred to migrants at the southern border.Advertisement

"Doesn't that hurt the credibility of the White House when they don't get the facts right, and someone's not doing their homework in the way they describe it?" Ingraham asked Conway.

"It got unfortunately confused by my colleague," Conway said. "Everybody makes mistakes - all of us. The fact is, it's corrected here. And anybody who turns a blind eye to the actual numbers of the human trafficking, the increase in the drugs - we are concerned about your children here in the United States being subjected to all these drugs, and we're concerned about their children not making these perilous journeys.