Trump admits there's no evidence to back up claim of 'unknown Middle Easterners' in migrant caravan

WASHINGTON — The White House can’t provide any evidence to back up a recent claim made by President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that Middle Easterners are participating in the migrant caravan heading through Mexico to the U.S. When pressed for proof of the claim by Yahoo News, the Department of Homeland Security provided unrelated statistics and the White House did not respond.

The migrant caravan formed this month in Honduras, and has ballooned to include thousands of people who are now making their way through Mexico. Many members of the group say they hope to escape the crushing violence and poverty in Central America and move to the U.S.

On Monday, Trump took to Twitter and suggested the caravan is a national emergency.

Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in,” Trump wrote.

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Migrants travel through Central America to the U.S.
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Migrants travel through Central America to the U.S.
Thousands of Hondurans in U.S.-bound migrant caravan head into Mexico. (Reuters)
Rafts cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climbs down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants making their way to the U.S. in a large caravan wave a Mexican flag as they arrive to Tapachula, Mexico, after a truck driver gave them a free ride, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the Guatemala-Mexico border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border Sunday in southern Mexico. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants hitchhike along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A man holds his luggage a top his head amidst a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America as they walk towards Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo while en route to the United States, in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America walk towards Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo while en route to the United States, in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Honduran migrants children, Ian Enamorado, 9, Josen Enamorado, 6 and Jasabel Quintanilla, 3, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait with their parents to apply for asylum in Mexico at a checkpoint in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Children of Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait with their parents to apply for asylum in Mexico at a checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., use a provisional ladder to climb down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Central American Migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., holds a child after crossing the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Central American migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., holds a girl in his arms as he walks to Mexico after crossing the Suchiate river to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., sit on a raft after going down from a bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., react on a raft after climbing down from a bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait to cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., waits to open the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait to open the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait to open the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., rest at the checkpoint between Guatemala and Mexico in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, October 19, 2018.REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., rest on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., are pictured after crossing into Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climbs down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
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Pence echoed that claim, and its suggestion that the caravan is a terrorism threat, in an interview with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa on Tuesday.

“Well, it’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border,” Pence said.

However, no government agency seems to have any information to back up these assertions.

On Monday, Yahoo News reached out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security to see if there was any evidence to back up Trump’s claim. ICE referred the request to DHS. A CBP spokesperson also referred the request to DHS, adding “for information on the president’s comments, please ask the White House.”

A DHS official responded to the request with a series of statistics that included apprehension of nationals from African, Asian and European countries, but who were not linked to the caravan. The official said Customs and Border Protection apprehended “3,028 special interest aliens from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Somalia” in fiscal year 2018. The official also cited CBP activity this year against “aliens” from more than a dozen countries with significant Muslim populations, including Eritrea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

The information provided by DHS has little bearing on Trump’s claim that Middle Easterners are participating in the caravan. Not only is that list of countries far beyond the Middle East; CBP’s jurisdiction includes ports, airports and the northern border, so it is unclear whether any of the people referred to by the official were apprehended after coming from Mexico.

The DHS official did not respond to follow-up requests asking if there was any specific information about the caravan, or to requests for numbers of attempted illegal crossings at the southern border in recent years by nationals of Middle Eastern countries.

The White House has not responded to multiple requests for comment on Tuesday asking if there is any evidence to support Trump and Pence’s statements. Senior Trump administration officials held a telephone press briefing on Tuesday during which they cited the same figures provided by DHS when asked about the comments.

The officials said they would have to defer to Mexican authorities for questions “on the actual current construct of the caravan.”

The officials said they had no new information on Middle Easterners being apprehended on the southern border.

The State Department’scountry reports on terrorism from 2016 specifically said “there are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory, and no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”

That report was compiled during President Barack Obama’s administration. The State Department’s country reports on terrorism from last year, the first edition under Trump,included slightly changed language that still indicated there is little threat of Middle Eastern terrorists coming from Mexico.

“At year’s end there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States. The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to potential terrorist transit, although terrorist groups likely seek other means of trying to enter the United States,” the report said.

When asked whether there was any new information about terrorists crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, a State Department official simply referred to that same report.

Trump essentially admitted there was no basis for his claim about “unknown Middle Easterners” when he was asked about it byreporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

“There’s no proof of anything, but there could very well be,” he said.

Additional reporting by Caitlin Dickson

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