I want to make a couple of follow on points we should all keep in mind as the administration continues to tie itself into semantic knots with their talking points about the need for a wall along the southern border with Mexico. As I wrote about yesterday, NBC’s Julia Ainsley reported that the information that administration had been pumping out regarding what is happening at the southern border was bullshit. I want to highlight and emphasize these two items from her reporting:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.
Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.
The U.S. keeps databases of people it believes may have ties to terrorist networks based on their spending activities, travel patterns, family ties or other activities. It is not a list of people who could be criminally charged under terrorism statutes, and it is possible that someone could be stopped because they have the same name as a person on the list.
It is important to remember that Republicans and conservatives think that the Terrorist Screening Database has rampant inaccuracies, is unreliable, and is a threat to civil rights and liberties, especially the civil right to keep and bear arms! From the BBC in June of 2016: (emphasis mine)
The US Senate has rejected plans to tighten gun controls, including the restriction of weapons sales to people on terrorism watch lists.
Four proposals were brought before the Senate after 49 people died in an attack on a gay nightclub in Florida.
But Democratic and Republican senators voted along party lines, blocking each other’s bills.
Senators strongly disagreed about how to prevent more attacks happening in future.
Republicans accused Democrats of giving the government the power to arbitrarily prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional right to own a firearm based on a secretive “terrorist watch list” with no judicial oversight. Democrats charged Republicans with being more concerned with the support of the National Rifle Association than preventing the next gun-related massacre.
Republicans and members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) complained that the bills put forward by the Democrats violated the constitutional right to bear arms. They are concerned that without enough “due process”, law-abiding Americans wrongly named on watch lists would be prevented from buying weapons.
If being listed on the Terrorist Screening Database isn’t sufficient to prevent someone from buying and/or owning a firearm, and is a violation of due process regarding an enumerated constitutional right, then it certainly isn’t sufficient to prevent someone from entering the US absent other, confirming and verifying data indicating that an individual is an actual terrorist threat to the US, its citizens, its residents, and those visiting it.
The six individuals on the southern border that came up as a match on the Terrorist Screening Database were, as Ainsley reported, classified as non-US persons. Presumably the other 35 who were identified as US persons were ultimately permitted to reenter the US. Given how poorly the facts support the administration’s arguments, as in they don’t support the administration’s arguments at all, the administration is now trying to further confuse the discussion by conflating a positive return from querying the Terrorist Screening Database with an even more nebulous classification: Special Interest Alien. Here’s Julia Ainsley reporting on this again:
Some context: @VP repeated to @HallieJackson today that 3,000 special interest aliens came through the southern border last year. This lays out the very low bar it takes to be an SIA. https://t.co/IopFUnfjcZ
— Julia E. Ainsley (@JuliaEAinsley) January 8, 2019
But being an SIA does not mean the person is on any kind of database or watchlist. Simply put, it's a red flag at most.
— Julia E. Ainsley (@JuliaEAinsley) January 8, 2019
Special Interest Aliens are: (emphasis mine)
But special interest aliens are not necessarily terrorist themselves, they just come from countries that are regarded as potential sources of terrorism.
“In recent days, the terms ‘Special Interest Aliens’ (SIAs) and ‘Known and Suspected Terrorists’ (KSTs) have become more frequently used as part of discussions about the federal budget and border security,” the Department of Homeland Security wrote in a press release on Monday.
“These terms are not synonymous nor interchangeable, but are two separate terms that are commonly used in the national security community to describe different types of potential threats,” the agency clarified.
A special interest alien is a person whose travel patterns to the United States are known to have a possible connection to terrorism. According to Homeland Security, the term “does not indicate any specific derogatory information about the individual.”
Homeland Security data indicates that 3,755 known or suspected terrorists were prevented from entering the U.S. in 2017. That same year, the agency also encountered more than 3,000 special interest aliens at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the press release, the agency said that these “figures are not the same and should not be conflated.”
According to the libertarian CATO Institute, since 1975 just seven special interest aliens who entered the U.S. illegally have been convicted of planning a terrorist attack, though none of them ever successfully carried out the attacks and none of them crossed the border from Mexico.
It is important to keep in mind, when you hear or see or read an administration official or one of their external surrogates, make claims about immigrants, documented or undocumented, the Terrorist Screening Database and/or Special Interest Aliens that none of these things actually mean anything substantive. The Terrorist Screening Database often produces false positives because it is matching names, which is why we have something we refer to as flying while David Nelson. And all it takes to be a Special Interest Alien is either being from or transiting through, for any reason, a nation-state that is considered a possible source for terrorism. Which just happens to be almost every nation-state on the planet including the US.
There is no actual national security crisis at the southern border, the northern border, or any other border and/or port of entry that the US has. Even if we didn’t have all the other evidence we had that indicates that there is not a national security crisis at the southern border, the semantic gymnastics that the administration and its surrogates and supporters are engaging in is a good indicator that this is all bullshit. We do have a humanitarian crisis at the southern border that is getting worse, but that is largely because the administration, its surrogates, and its supporters are trying very hard to manufacture a national security crisis at the southern border that doesn’t exist.
We are, once again, off the looking glass and through the map!