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Tim Scott promotes ‘terrorist watch list’ border crossings

“Hundreds of people on our terror watch list cross our borders.”

– Senator Tim Scott (RS.C.), in his presidential announcement speechMay 22

In a speech formally announcing he is running for the GOP nomination for president, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina made the claim as part of an attack on the president’s handling of immigration policy. Biden. This is an interesting example of how politicians can twist facts and give a misleading impression.

Just before referring to “hundreds of people” on the border-crossing terrorist list, Scott set up the sentence with this introduction: “On my first day as Commander-in-Chief, the strongest nation of Earth will stop withdrawing from our own southern border. If you don’t control your back door, it’s not your home. And if our southern border is insecure and insecure, it is not our country.

As a listener, you would probably think he meant that hundreds of people with ties to terrorism were crossing the US-Mexico border. You would be wrong.

Note that Scott used the word “borders”. A spokesperson for Scott said he was referring to Department of Homeland Security data regarding “terrorist screening encounters,” specifically the category that represents a person of any nationality appearing at any point in time. land border entry. This means that someone sought to enter the United States at an official point of entry, such as a bridge, and was found to be on the terrorism screening database, commonly referred to as the “watch list”.

There is no firm estimate of the number of names on the list, but it is thought to be over a million. The American Civil Liberties Union, extrapolating from the last time an official figure was given, estimated last year that more than 1.6 million people, including some US citizens, ended up on the list. There have long been fears that people are placed there incorrectly, sometimes because of similar names, and that it is difficult to remove themselves from the list.

Regardless, the data shows that most encounters took place at the border with Canada, not Mexico. For example, in fiscal year 2022, there were 313 encounters with people on the watch list who were arrested at the northern border, compared to 67 at the southern border. So far in this exercise, which began Oct. 1, there have been 49 encounters at the US-Mexico border and 246 at the border with Canada. (Note: Homeland Security says data may include multiple encounters with the same person.)

In recent years, most cross-border encounters have occurred when Donald Trump was president in 2019, suggesting this is not a problem associated solely with the Biden administration.

There is a separate category listed by DHS – encounters with non-US citizens between ports of entry. This means people are trying to sneak across the border – through a sparsely populated desert, for example – rather than using an official entry point. This typically occurs along the southern border, and the number has jumped over the past two years, from 15 in fiscal year 2021 to 98 in fiscal year 2022 and 96 so far this year. . According to DHS, encounters with people on the watch list accounted for 0.0079% of total undocumented border encounters in fiscal year 2023.

This brings us to the second part of Scott’s statement – that these people “cross our borders”. They are not. Those listed in the data cited by Scott’s spokesperson were stopped at the border; they did not meet. As for the people who tried to sneak out, they may have entered the country briefly but they were caught.

Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said the use of the phrase “crossing our borders” was an overstatement. “They were captured at the border, either at a port of entry or between a port of entry,” he said. “So maybe ‘caught trying to cross the border’ would be more accurate.”

Denise L. Gilman, co-director of the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic, noted in an email that encounters with people on the watch list are not common and that ” the numbers are tiny in the pattern of numbers of cross-border commuters arriving in the United States.

Both Gilman and Yale-Loehr noted that not everyone on the watch list is a terrorist. “It’s well documented that many people are mistakenly placed on watch lists and that there are other significant issues with those lists, so a meeting with someone on the list doesn’t really mean a meeting. with a terrorist,” Gilman said.

Scott’s statement “is part of a trend that suggests there are security risks or crises at the border when there is simply no evidence that arrivals of asylum seekers at the border raise a security threat,” she added.

Scott’s line, while presumably written to be technically accurate, lacks significant context. It comes in a section of his speech where he talks about the southern border, but the federal data he’s referring to shows that more dating happens on the northern border. He says people on the terror list crossed borders when in fact they were arrested. It is also possible that someone has been included in the watch list by mistake.

Scott wins Two Pinocchios.

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