January 10, 2019
Issues: Muslim Ban, Stopping Discrimination
Advocacy Groups Demand Trump Administration Retract False and Misleading Claims About Terrorists at Border, as Federal Law Requires
Department of Homeland Security’s “Myth/Fact Sheet” Contains Misleading Statements and Outright Falsehoods to Justify Trump’s Border Wall
Groups Are Using Same Law That Recently Forced Administration To Admit DOJ Report Was Misleading
Washington DC— Today, together with and on behalf of Muslim Advocates and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, Democracy Forward invoked the Information Quality Act (IQA) to demand that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) retract and correct its “fact sheet” that purports to provide information on the threat that terrorists will enter through the Southern Border. This misleading document falsely connects the threat of terrorism with immigration and border security in an unlawful attempt to justify similar misleading claims made repeatedly by Administration officials–claims made in service of President Trump’s attempt to stoke panic and justify his push for billions in border wall funding. The groups sought corrections under the Information Quality Act, a data accuracy law that requires government agencies to meet certain quality standards when disseminating information to the public.
“DHS is pushing these false facts and misleading narratives to try to get the President out of a political jam of his own making, but by presenting misinformation to the public, they are breaking the law,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Every time the Trump Administration twists the facts to solve its political problems, it makes it harder and harder for people to trust the information they get from the agencies charged with keeping us safe.”
“The new fact sheet is yet another example of this administration’s insistence on distorting the facts to create the false impression that immigrants are a threat,” said Sirine Shebaya, Senior Staff Attorney with Muslim Advocates. “But the data does not support this conclusion, as both advocates and national security experts have explained. The administration has an obligation to the public to stop spreading lies and to tell the American people the truth: the Southern Border is not in need of a wall, because there is no data that bears out the conclusions the administration is trying to push.”
“The President is scrambling to build support for a wall at the Southern border,” said Manoj Govindaiah, Director of Litigation at Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. “By relying on false and misleading information intended to stoke fear and panic, rather than concrete data and honest facts, the “fact” sheet shows that the wall is purely a political issue.”
On January 7, 2019, DHS published the Myth/Fact Sheet: Known and Suspected Terrorists/Special Interest Aliens, a “Fact Sheet” purporting to lay out the facts regarding security concerns at the Southern Border. The document was released after a week in which Administration officials made misleading or outright false claims about the rate of terrorists crossing the border.
The groups identified a number of statements in DHS’s Fact Sheet that are misleading, false, or otherwise lacking necessary context, including:
- Officials “never indicated that the [Special Interest Aliens] designation” implies “any specific derogatory information about the individual.” This statement is false. Secretary Nielsen stated at a January 4, 2019 White House press briefing that “special-interest aliens trying to come into the country on the southern border” can be characterized as individuals with “known or suspected ties to terrorism.
- “[S]ignificant numbers of threat actors have attempted, and continue to attempt, to enter the United States surreptitiously and without authority.” This is misleading. The fact sheet followed a week of White House and DHS statements focused purely on the threat deriving from terrorists crossing the Southern Border, so even close readers might naturally assume that the document is likewise concerned solely with terrorists crossing the Southern Border. But there is no support for the idea that significant numbers of terrorists are crossing the Southern Border.
- “The threat [of terrorists entering across the Southern Border] is real.” To justify this claim, the Fact Sheet further asserts that “[t]he number of terror-watchlisted individuals encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years.” Both claims are misleading or outright false. In fact, the number of potential terrorists who have crossed the Southern Border is so low that it has been described by the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center as “much more of a theoretical vulnerability than an actual one.”
Today’s submission also follows a recent admission by the Department of Justice, in response to a separate IQA petition filed by Democracy Forward and Muslim Advocates, that its joint terrorism report with DHS contained a number of misleading assertions. Multiple senators have since called for correction and retraction of the fact sheet.
Read today’s petition here.
Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
RAICES is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees.