FACT CHECK: President Donald Trump’s false claims against migrant caravan
As the caravan of more than 7,000 migrants from Central America fleeing violence and poverty heads toward the Mexico–U.S. border, President Donald Trump has made a number of false claims in a bid to make the caravan an election issue ahead of the U.S. midterms.
Here is a closer look at the facts behind some of Trump’s claims about the group of individuals and families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala searching for a better life.
“Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners”
WATCH ABOVE: Trump speaks at White House with reporters on migrant caravan
In a series of tweets early Monday, Trump claimed — without evidence — that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” were mixed into the caravan.
He later followed up that claim, telling reporters at the White House: “You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern. You’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety.”
Trump later said: “There’s no proof of anything, but there very well could be.”
Reporters from several media outlets embedded with the caravan have all said there is no evidence that “unknown Middle Easterners” have infiltrated the crowd.
“A team of AP journalists travelling with the caravan for more than a week has spoken with Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, but has not met any Middle Easterners, who Trump suggested were ‘mixed in’ with the Central American migrants,” the Associated Press reported.
While it is not unheard of for people of Middle Eastern descent to cross the Mexico border, it is exceptionally rare.
The latest data from the U.S. State Department shows that of the more than 300,000 people apprehended at the southern border last year, just 61 were from countries deemed the Middle East or Near East.
‘A hundred ISIS fighters’
Trump’s comments appear to follow a segment on Fox & Friends in which co-host Pete Hegseth said that members of the so-called Islamic State were travelling with the caravan.
“You got the president of Guatemala saying to a local newspaper down there just last week, they caught over a hundred ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to use this caravan,” Hegseth said.
WATCH: Coverage of migrant caravan
Hegseth appears to be citing a story in the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre, which reports that President Jimmy Morales made a speech claiming to have captured 100 terrorists.
Speaking at a conference in Washington, Morales said that Guatemala had arrested “almost 100 people highly linked to terrorist groups, specifically ISIS” and “they have also been deported to their countries of origin.”
He gave the speech on Oct. 11, days before the caravan had formed.
A senior counter-terrorism official, speaking with CNN, acknowledged that while there are vulnerabilities along the southern and northern borders, “we do not see any evidence that ISIS or other Sunni terrorist groups are trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border.”
‘Democrats are paying members of the caravan’
WATCH ABOVE: Trump slams migrant caravan
Speaking at a rally in Montana, Trump claimed that “a lot of money has been passing to people to come up and try and get to the border by election day, because they think that’s a negative for us.”
“A lot of money’s been passing through people to come up and try to get to the border by Election Day because they think that’s a negative for us,” Trump said. “They wanted that caravan and there are those that say that caravan didn’t just happen. It didn’t just happen.”
There is no evidence to suggest Democrats or other political actors are funding the caravan and no Republican has provided any proof to support this allegation.
Last week, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz tweeted a video of people he claimed were in Honduras being handed money and suggested without evidence that the money may have come from billionaire George Soros.
The video was actually shot in Guatemala, something Gaetz later acknowledged. Guatemalan journalist, Luis Assardo, reported that the money was raised by local merchants to help people purchase food and water for the trek.
‘Some bad people’
The caravan has become a favourite target for Trump while speaking at rallies.
In Arizona, he said those in the caravan were “bad people” and “not little angels.”
“I didn’t say in all cases. But in many cases, these are hardened criminals,” he continued. “These are tough, tough people, and I don’t want them in our country and neither does our country.”
“A fairly big percentage of those people are criminals. It’s not happening on my watch.”
Trump offered no evidence to support his claims of criminality. When asked for evidence by New York Times journalist Emily Cochrane, Trump replied, “Don’t be a baby.”
“Oh, please. Please. Don’t be a baby. Okay?” Trump added, “Take a look, just take a look at what’s happened. Look at the Mexican soldiers that are laying on the ground.”
On Oct. 19, members of the caravan and police in Mexico clashed after a standoff with migrants hurling rocks and shoes at police, who responded by firing tear gas at the crowds.
At least six police officers were wounded in the confrontation, according to the New York Times.
— With files from the Associated Press.
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