House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) made some bold assertions while visiting the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday that Democratic lawmakers say is likely a lie. McCarthy claimed that border agents had told him that terrorists had entered the country due to a relaxation of immigration rules by the Biden administration.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, McCarthy said that he was told directly by agents that terrorists had entered the U.S. “You saw it in their eyes. They talked about, ‘They’re on the list.’ … The terrorist watch list,” McCarthy said, per reporting from The Washington Post.
McCarthy also claimed that these purported terrorists were entering the country from places like Yemen, Iran and Sri Lanka. Border agents “even talked about Chinese, as well,” the California Republican said.
None of the claims made by McCarthy on Monday hold up to scrutiny. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not responded to media inquiries regarding McCarthy’s assertions, and the lawmaker’s office has similarly not provided any evidence that would confirm his statements.
The claims from McCarthy match those made by former President Donald Trump, who similarly said in 2018 that terrorists were being caught while crossing the border. Those claims by Trump could not be confirmed as well, and according to reporting from Reuters at the time, sources within the federal government said they were untrue.
Democratic members of Congress from states that share a border with Mexico were openly skeptical of McCarthy’s evidence-lacking claims. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said she also recently spoke with Border Patrol agents, none of whom made any comments suggesting terrorists were crossing the border.
In a tweet he authored on Monday, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) described the assertions by McCarthy as “weird,” and said that if such a thing were happening, he would have probably known about it, too.
“As the Chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations and a border state member of Congress [I] haven’t heard anything about this,” Gallego said.
Weird as the Chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations and a border state member of Congress haven’t heard anything about this. Gonna ask for a briefing. Pretty sure he is either wrong or lying. https://t.co/retrzeUPxV
— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) March 15, 2021
The Arizona congressman added that he was going to request a briefing from McCarthy in order to learn more. But he also expressed doubts over the veracity of what the Republican leader had suggested.
“Pretty sure he is either wrong or lying,” Gallego said.
Despite McCarthy’s questionable claims, there is legitimate reason for concern about other matters pertaining to the U.S.’s southern border. Many more migrants than usual are coming to the U.S., fleeing poverty, natural disasters, crime and repressive governments from their home countries, overwhelming U.S. officials and their ability to process asylum claims.
The U.S. is witnessing a 20-year high in the number of migrants arriving at the border. Many of those who are braving the trek are young children, a number of whom are unaccompanied by adults, and who are being packed into detention centers in close proximity to each other during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a worrying development for immigrant rights activists.
As of Sunday, around 4,200 children were being housed in these facilities, a 31 percent increase from one week prior. About 3,000 of those children have been stuck in the facilities for more than 72 hours, the legal limit for how long minors are meant to be kept before being transferred to health officials within the Office of Refugee Resettlement for more permanent housing solutions.
Journalists haven’t been allowed into these detention centers to document what’s happening, but lawyers representing the children have said the facilities are cramped and overcrowded. Children have reported that they lack basic hygiene needs, including soap, and that they have not had adequate access to food at times, the lawyers said.