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John Loughlin, a Republican running for Congress in the 1st District, echoed a controversial claim about illegal immigration when he appeared July 9 on WHJJ's Helen Glover Show.
Loughlin, fresh from a trip to Arizona, said that it's common for people crossing the border illegally to be carrying drugs for drug traffickers.
"That's the price of admission," Loughlin said. "So if you want your family to go -- you, your wife, your kids, you know -- 'Here's a backpack full of drugs.' That's how you're going to get across the border."
At another point in the conversation, he said, "And these are folks that come across the border and in many cases they're human traffickers. And in order to get passage across the border you gotta carry a knapsack full of 80 pounds of drugs. And if you get tired in the middle of the desert, they take the drugs off your back and leave you for dead. They found many of them just left for dead in the middle of the desert."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer made a similar claim June 25, when she asserted that "The majority of people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules."
PolitiFact National examined Brewer's claim and, on June 30, judged it as False.
PolitiFact concluded that while most experts agree that there is growing overlap between drug smuggling and human smuggling, the evidence shows that only a small percentage of those crossing the border illegally are carrying drugs.
Even Brewer backed off her initial statement, issuing two clarifications. The second one said, in part: "The simple truth is that the majority of human smuggling in our state is under the direction of the drug cartels, which are by definition smuggling drugs."
So, by her logic, if you're being helped by a drug smuggler, you're a drug smuggler, even if you're not carrying drugs.
We alerted Loughlin's campaign to the previous PolitiFact story and asked for the source of the candidate's statements on the Glover show.
Loughlin's campaign manager, Cara Cromwell, responded by noting that Loughlin never specifically said the majority of illegal immigrants were transporting drugs. But his words and the context of his comments clearly gave the impression that carrying drugs is now the price of admission for getting into the United States illegally.
Cromwell also released a statement from the candidate saying that he got his information from law enforcement officials in Arizona, and she gave us a phone number for the Pinal County sheriff's office. "While the information is anecdotal, it is nevertheless a sad but true fact," Loughlin said in the statement.
So we called, and then emailed, the Pinal County sheriff's office and asked how many people they had arrested for crossing the border since Jan. 1, and how many of those had been charged with drug offenses.
Spokesman Tim Gaffney said that from Jan. 1 to May 18, their office turned over 100 people to the U.S. Border Patrol for being in the country illegally, of which 41 were charged with marijuana smuggling. So far so good.
But it turns out that Pinal County is about 70 miles from the border, and those 100 people, said Gaffney, were picked up for a variety of reasons, not as they were crossing the border. "None of them are from that. They're all just from officer contacts, from citizens calling in the individuals," Gaffney said. "Almost all of them are traffic stops or citizens calling in regarding fights in progress or suspicious behavior where we get called to it."
He referred us to the U.S. Border Patrol for broader numbers.
We then called Steven Cribby, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who pulled statistics for the Tucson sector, which covers 262 miles of Arizona border, from the New Mexico state line to Yuma, Arizona. It's also the biggest and busiest sector.
The 100 people (about 22 per month) picked up in Pinal County turns out to be a drop in the bucket. From Oct. 1, 2008 through Sept. 30, 2009, the border patrol apprehended 241,673 people (20,000 per month), Cribby said.
How many of the 241,673 cases involved drugs? Cribby said the Border Patrol logged 1,602 apprehensions in "drug-related events" for that period.
We did the math. That's less than 1 percent (0.66 percent) of all the apprehensions from that Border Patrol sector.
But Cribby stressed that not everyone who is apprehended in a drug-related event is actually involved with drugs. "It just means they were apprehended in the same event," he said.
So the actual percentage could be even lower.
"For the most part, the people who are bringing drugs across, they're getting very heavily coached that as soon as you sense that the Border Patrol is coming to run away as quickly as possible" back to Mexico, said Tucson sector agent Colleen Agle. "And a lot of them try to come north with the intention of just hiding the load so that somebody who is already in the United States can come and pick that up. So they're trying to hide it and run back."
So they're not even interested in staying in the United States.
This seems to confirm what PolitiFact found in June when it received data from the Department of Homeland Security showing that, in March 2010, drug and drug-trafficking charges accounted for just over 5 percent of immigrations and customs prosecutions while simple immigration violations accounted for almost 89 percent.
By saying that carrying drugs has become the price of admission for getting across the Arizona border illegally, Loughlin falsely created the impression that most immigrants sneaking across the border are being forced to pay this price.
After we informed the campaign that the drug mule claim had been questioned (and sent along the June 30 PolitiFact item outlining its problems), Loughlin acknowledged that he was using anecdotal information from the law enforcement people he spoke with, yet still characterized his "price of admission" comment as "a sad but true fact."
But anecdotes are not the best evidence.
The not-so-anecdotal numbers from Customs and Border Protection show that his fact is sad but not true.
We rate his claim as Pants on Fire.
Podcast, "Helen Glover Show 7-9-10 9am," accessed July 9, 2010
PolitiFact.com, "Arizona Gov. Brewer says 'majority' of illegals are 'drug mules,'" accessed July 9, 2010
Emailed statement from John Loughlin, candidate for Congress in the 1st District, July 13, 2010
Emails, Tim Gaffney, public information officer, Pinal County Sheriff's office, July 13 and 14, 2010
Interview, Tim Gaffney, public information officer, Pinal County Sheriff's office, July 16, 2010.
Interviews, Steven Cribby, spokesman, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 15 and 16, 2010
Interview, Colleen Agle, border patrol agent, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 14, 2010
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