President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency on Friday, rejecting a resolution passed by the House and the Senate that would have blocked his declaration of a national emergency on the border with Mexico.
He had consistently advocated for building a wall on the border by invoking various nefarious threats: terrorists, drug smugglers, criminals, gang members, human smugglers. This rhetoric, often disconnected from actual data, was not sufficiently compelling for Congress to authorize spending on the wall, so Trump decided to deploy an emergency declaration.
“People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is,” Trump said, referring to the number of people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. By saying that, he was unwittingly echoing similar phrasing that’s been in the news in the past 24 hours: “We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history.”
That phrase appears in a document that appears to have been shared online by the alleged shooter in a deadly attack at two New Zealand mosques that left 49 Muslim worshipers dead. The document focuses heavily on immigration and the author’s perceived sense of an embattled white race.
Given the racist focus of the New Zealand attack, Trump was asked during a brief interaction with the media Friday if he felt that white nationalism was a rising threat around the world.
"I don't really," Trump replied. "I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems."
It’s hard to miss the irony. Trump had just signed a document focused on shifting resources to the southern U.S. border to build a wall that fulfilled a campaign promise specifically arguing that small groups of people — terrorists, smugglers — made it necessary.
It’s certainly hard to know how many white nationalists there are in the United States, much less around the world. It’s estimated that there are thousands of members of the Ku Klux Klan nationally, one of scores of groups focused on racist ideology.
We have better numbers on some of the small groups that Trump has targeted with his rhetoric.
There are no known examples of terrorists having infiltrated the United States by crossing the border with Mexico — a data point that comes from the State Department itself. The administration has claimed that nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists are blocked from entering the country or apprehended doing so, but that’s mostly at airports and mostly “suspected” terrorists, not known ones.
After Trump repeatedly told horror stories about women being bound and gagged before being smuggled across the border, the administration was asked how often this actually happened. It was unable to provide an answer (and, in fact, appears to have scrambled to find stories that matched Trump's rhetoric).
His claims about the amount of drugs crossing the border between ports of entry are also inflated. Most drugs that are apprehended at the border are caught at border checkpoints.
There are, of course, people who try to enter the country illegally between ports of entry. As reporting has repeatedly shown, though, many — if not most — quickly turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents to make a claim of asylum. The Washington Post’s report on a new “conveyor belt” bringing immigrants to the border from Guatemala makes clear that turning themselves in is one focus of the migrants’ trip.
Present for Trump’s signing of the veto was an “angel mom,” the mother of someone whose loved one was killed by an immigrant in the country illegally. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. has regularly criticized the media for not reporting on those mothers’ plight. It’s not clear, though, how many such victims there are. The available evidence suggests that immigrants, including immigrants in the country illegally, commit crimes at a lower rate than do native-born Americans.
Any claim that gang members cross the border illegally in vast numbers is also inflated. There were about 1,000 gang members stopped at the border in the last federal fiscal year (from October 2017 through September 2018). A fifth of them were stopped at border checkpoints. Trump has in the past claimed that unaccompanied minors cross into the country who are members of the gang MS-13, but from 2011 to 2017 only 56 such people were apprehended among the 249,000 unaccompanied minors who attempted to enter the United States.
Most notably, Trump declared during the 2016 campaign that he would seek to shut down all entry into the United States from Muslims. As president, that evolved into his travel ban, which heavily focused on countries with largely Muslim populations. Why? The immediate impetus for his call for a ban was the mass shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., in late 2015.
That was carried out by a man born in America and his Pakistan-born wife. The mere possibility that others loyal to the Islamic State might seek entry into the United States was enough for Trump to call for a ban on anyone of the Muslim faith.
On the campaign trail, as the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale noted on Friday, Trump used to tell a fictional story about an attempt to curtail Muslim terrorism. In his story, which he told with approval as he described how forcefully the situation must be dealt with, 49 Muslims are murdered with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.
When terrorists tried to carry out an attack in London in June, Trump tweeted about the attack before it had even ended. When he was less quick to condemn the racism behind the murder of a counterprotester at the hands of a white nationalist in Charlottesville, in 2017, he insisted the delay was because he wanted to ensure he had the facts.
That was similar to the line he offered in the Oval Office on Friday.
“If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case,” Trump said about the idea that the massacre of 49 people was motivated by racism. “I don’t know enough about it yet.”