Fox News and other right-wing cable outlets have seized on recent reporting about Border Patrol apprehending 23 people whose names appeared on the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) to recklessly fearmonger about the threat of terrorism at the border, exploiting the story to attack the Biden administration while pushing their own anti-immigrant narrative.
On April 18, Fox News published an exclusive report that claimed the “Border Patrol apprehended at least 23 people coming across the southern border whose names are on the terror watchlist in 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data.” Fox News, along with Newsmax and OAN, has aggressively promoted this story, using it to push the oft-used right-wing media narrative that migrants coming over the border are a threat to the American people. Conservative hosts have also used Fox’s reporting to fearmonger about a potential escalation of terrorist activity and individuals coming through the border to cause “another 9/11.”
In reality, there are myriad problems with how the conservative networks are framing the story. As White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted while being questioned about this story by Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, CBP was successfully able to prevent the 23 individuals from coming into the country. Additionally, civil rights groups and attorneys have voiced concerns about the TSDB itself, which has “vague” requirements, including “beliefs and activities protected by the First Amendment” and even “study of the Arabic language,” and keeps people on the list even if they have been acquitted of charges, potentially sweeping up innocent people. Judges have also called into question the constitutionality of the database, ruling in 2019 that it violated the civil rights of American citizens on the list. In context, this story is indicative less of actual terrorism at the border than of the ability of right-wing media to manipulate a report to serve their anti-immigration agenda.
Here is how Fox used the story to spread anti-immigrant talking points and bash the Biden administration while fearmongering about terrorists at the southern border on April 18:
- On America’s Newsroom, Fox News national correspondent Bill Melugin, who co-wrote the original article for FoxNews.com, suggested that there may be more terrorists who have made it across the border undetected: “Keep in mind, these are only the ones they know about, only the ones they caught.”
- Speaking to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth claimed that there may be more terrorists who have already crossed the border: “We are now getting information that in 2021, there were 23 known or suspected terrorists caught at the U.S. southern border in 2021 alone. Those are the ones we know about and, Congressman, the ones we can actually do a background check on, which most you cannot. And that does not account for the people that were not encountered by law enforcement. So this is a serious national security issue, too.”
- Former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr told the Outnumbered panel that the story was proof the Biden administration has “completely lost control of the border” and claimed the people on the terror list who were caught “are just the tip of the iceberg.”
- During an appearance on America’s Newsroom, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Christopher Olivarez, fearmongered that “this has serious implications for national security,” claiming, “We know that for every individual coming across who’s a suspected terrorist, they're able to recruit other individuals in the interior to carry out deadly attacks.” He added that ending the Trump-era Title 42 policy of expelling immigrants on public health grounds will worsen the issue and that we have no way of knowing how many terrorists have successfully crossed our border.
- On Jesse Watters Primetime, guest host Brian Kilmeade said, “It’s not just migrants illegally crossing our southern border in 2021 looking for a better life. … It only takes one person to cause a tragedy, and 23 is just the suspected number of terrorists who were caught. Who knows how many got away?”
- America Reports co-anchor Sandra Smith suggested that ending Title 42 would result in more terrorists entering the U.S.: “We know the officials at the border are overwhelmed with this crisis, and if we are about to see even more pour over the southern border, how are we going to even know how many more of those potential terrorists are coming in?”
- On The Faulkner Focus, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain claimed there was an “invasion” happening on the southern border and linked it to higher crime: “Look, Kansas City has a murder rate in 2021 of 224 murders. Atlanta, 158. Milwaukee County on pace in 2022 for 300. So, this is what we are asking for, and quite honestly the numbers are higher because you’re starting already with an illegal act (of crossing the border), and then ask yourself what can hide within a city the size of Milwaukee coming in every month? And then you get to Bill Melugin’s report … 23 terrorists that we know of in 2021 crossing illegally. This is what we’re asking for.”
- Fox & Friends guest co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy used a debunked right-wing talking point to claim that the Biden administration was focusing on investigating parents more than terrorists, saying, “If anything happens because of – any terrorist attacks happened during the watch of the Biden administration, we will know probably they came through that southern border. But this administration is way more concerned with parents who are also domestic terrorists. That seems to be more of a focus.”
Fox's reporting also spread to Newsmax and OAN where hosts capitalized on the chance to raise alarms:
- Newsmax’s Eric Bolling fearmongered about potential terrorists entering the country: “And while yes, numbers show that border agents caught 23 migrants who are on the terror watch list trying to cross in 2021, CBP also reports that 62,000 got away in March. Every day in the month of March, on average, 2,000 illegals evaded Border Patrol. Every day, 2,000 potential terrorists coming into the country. Joe Biden’s failure at the southern border is a national security disaster.”
- While interviewing Rep. James Comer (R-KY), OAN’s Dan Ball claimed that the current border policies “could allow terrorist to slip through, so we could have another 9/11 attack – I’m not exaggerating here, this could happen.”