In an effort to whip up support for his phony border wall and create the illusion that a humanitarian crisis is occurring at the southern U.S. border, Donald Trump has repeatedly told a bizarre anecdote about women being bound and gagged.
No one has been able to figure out yet where Trump got the information for these claims, which he’s repeated nearly a dozen times in less than a month.
On Jan. 15, Trump fact-checker Daniel Dale published a report in the Toronto Star in which six human trafficking experts said they had “met no trafficking victims who had suffered anything like the experience Trump described.” Two days later, The Washington Post published a similar account, noting that advocates for immigrant women and trafficking experts were “perplexed” by Trump’s repeated telling of the tale that women being bound and gagged and driven across the U.S.-Mexico border in vans and cars.
The Post noted that Trump first began commenting on these allegedly kidnapped women on Jan. 4, after meeting with congressional leadership on border security. The previous day, on Jan. 3, Trump met with officials from the National Border Patrol Council, the agency’s union.
On Jan. 4, Trump said the following, as transcribed by the Post:
“One of the things that happens there is human traffickers — maybe that’s the worst of all — where you’ll have traffickers having three and four women with tape on their mouths and tied up, sitting in the back of a van or a car, and they’ll drive that van or the car not through a port of entry, where we have very talented people that look for every little morsel of drugs, or even people, or whatever they’re looking for. Not going to go there. They get off the road and they drive out into the desert, and they come on, they make a left turn. Usually it’s a left, not a right.”
Neither the White House nor the council responded to the Post’s questions about Trump’s horrid claims.
According to new reporting by Vox, the Border Patrol didn’t seem to know what Trump was talking about, either. The Post’s report prompted an email to be circulated among agents on behalf of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan asking for “any information…regarding claims ‘that traffickers tie up and silence women with tape before illegally driving them through the desert from Mexico to the United States in the backs of cars and windowless vans,’” Vox reported.
That story notes:
Vox’s source indicated that they and others in their sector hadn’t heard anything that would back up Trump’s claims, but wasn’t sure if agents in other sectors had provided information. However, no one from the Trump administration has come forward to offer evidence for the claim, either before or after the internal Border Patrol email was sent. (Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.)
None of this is to say that women migrants don’t face difficult and dangerous situations on their journey north from Latin America to the United States. And it’s certainly possible that some may have been restrained and sexually attacked during kidnapping or extortion cases. But driving them across the border in vans in whatever direction isn’t how traffickers operate, experts point out.
Trump may have seen or heard intelligence reports that others, such as journalists or immigration advocates, don’t have access to. But if he does, the Border Patrol doesn’t appear to have been clued in about it.
“It’s clear that he just doesn’t have an understanding of what happens at the border,” Edna Yang, assistant executive director of the immigration advocacy group American Gateways, told the Post. “I think that all President Trump is doing is pushing a wall. A wall is not going to stop individuals fleeing to the United States when home conditions are terrible. He’s just trying different tactics to get what he wants.”
Trump has repeated the claim 10 times in 22 days. The latest was on Friday, when the president, speaking in the Rose Garden, made this confusing and rambling statement (emphasis mine):
“Human traffickers. The victims are women. And children…Women are tied up, they’re bound, duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths, in many cases they can’t even breathe. They’re put in the backs of cars or vans or trucks. They don’t go through your port of entry. They make a right turn going very quickly. They go into the desert areas, or whatever areas you can look at. And as soon as there’s no protection, they make a left or a right into the United States of America.
There’s nobody to catch them, there’s nobody to find them. They can’t come through the port, because if they come through the port, people will see four women sitting in a van, with tape around their face and around their mouth. Can’t have that. And that problem, because of the internet, is the biggest problem, it’s never been like this before, that you can imagine. It’s at the worst level, human trafficking, in the history of the world.”