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U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter this week declared terrorists have been crossing the Rio Grande.
The California Republican, speaking to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Oct. 7, 2014, said he’d learned from the U.S. Border Patrol that Islamic State fighters had been nabbed trying to enter the country from Mexico. "ISIS is coming across the southern border," Hunter said, adding a moment later: "I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas."
Border Patrol agents "caught them," Hunter also said, but "you know there's going to be dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol."
Our eyebrows were raised. We sought detail.
No federal or state confirmation
No state or federal law enforcement agency confirmed Hunter’s account when we inquired, and Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper declined to reveal the congressman’s sources.
Fox News, in its original Oct. 8, 2014, online news report on Hunter’s declaration, quoted the Department of Homeland Security disputing his account.
Homeland Security told PolitiFact Texas that no such apprehensions have occurred. An agency spokeswoman, Marsha Catron, emailed: "The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border."
And after Hunter spoke, the Texas Department of Public Safety wrote state legislators, saying in an Oct. 8, 2014, email it "does not have any information to confirm" statements about Islamic terrorists or ISIS fighters entering the country. A DPS spokesman, Tom Vinger, confirmed the message’s authenticity.
In the message, a DPS deputy director, Robert Bodisch, mentioned the Hunter interview and an Oct. 8, 2014, news report by Judicial Watch, a conservative news website, stating Islamic terrorists had entered the country from Mexico. According to unidentified Homeland Security sources, Judicial Watch said four terrorists had been apprehended in the previous 36 hours by federal authorities and the DPS in McAllen and Pharr.
In the message to legislators, Bodisch further wrote: "An unsecure border is certainly a vulnerability that can be exploited by criminals of all kinds, and it would be naïve to rule out the possibility that any criminal organization would not look for opportunities to take advantage of security gaps along our international border. That said, DPS does not have any information to confirm the specific statements recently reported in the press."
On Sept. 17, 2014, PolitiFact in Washington analyzed an August 2014 Judicial Watch story, finding Mostly False another congressman’s claim that "we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez," which neighbors El Paso. Research did not turn up any law enforcement official or news outlet that independently verified or corroborated the claim, making the declaration that "we know" with certainty ISIS is in Juarez a big stretch.
For this fact check, a terrorism expert said Hunter’s claim doesn’t make much sense.
"It’s implausible given the way the criminal-justice system works to have 10 ISIS fighters arrested at the border and never charged," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.
Gartenstein-Ross said by phone he knows of "no reporting coming through DHS suggesting that a large number of ISIS fighters have been intercepted at the border. I’ve talked to a large number of people within the department, and the department has unequivocally denied it. There’s not one shred of evidence this is the case."
Kasper, informed we'd not confirmed Hunter's statement, said Hunter stands by what he said.
Kasper also expressed doubt federal agencies are revealing the facts about fighters getting caught.
"Problem here is that this is always a zero-sum game," Kasper wrote. "We make the point. Official channels deny. Then, maybe in a few years from now the information will pop up on the front page of the Washington Post," much like that newspaper this week reported new details about the Secret Service prostitution scandal, Kasper said.
Hunter said "at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas" and there are "dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol."
No government agency confirms anything remotely close to the idea that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border. Notably, too, the lead Texas agency entrusted with public safety alerted legislators of its own lack of confirmation. Similarly, the idea there are "dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol" is missing a factual basis.
All told, this statement strikes us as incorrect and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Emails, Joe Kasper, communications director, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Oct. 10, 2014
Emails, Roderick Kise, public affairs officer, Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, US Customs and Border Protection, Oct. 8, 2014
Emails, Marsha Catron, deputy press secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Oct. 9, 2014
Emails, Tom Vinger, press secretary, Texas Department of Public Safety, Oct. 9, 2014
Message, Robert Bodisch, deputy director, Homeland Security & Services, Texas Department of Public Safety, Oct. 8, 2014, (received by PolitiFact Texas in an email from Kate Alexander, policy analyst, state Sen. Kirk Watson, Oct. 10, 2014)
Telephone interview, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, Oct. 10, 2014
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