With no resolution in sight in his fight for a wall on the southern U.S. border, President Donald Trump on Friday morning promoted an unfounded claim from a conservative newspaper purporting that Islamic prayer rugs have been found scattered along the border.
The claim implies that a significant number of Muslims are illegally entering the country through the southern border with Mexico and, taken together with his other comments about the border, that they are dangerous. Although some Muslims do cross the U.S.-Mexico border, numbers are relatively low and past claims about prayer rugs found there have been disproven.
Trump cited The Washington Examiner in his tweet about the supposed rugs. The site published a story on Wednesday featuring a video interview with an unnamed woman who said that although she has never seen Middle Eastern people along the border, she has seen what she described as prayer rugs.
She presented no photos or details on how she knew they were prayer rugs. HuffPost reached out to the author of the piece for clarification but did not receive an immediate response.
The website quoted the woman as an anonymous source because she allegedly feared retaliation from “cartels who move the individuals.”
The unnamed source also said certain border control agents told her there has been an increase in “OTMs,” short for “other than Mexicans,” crossing the border in recent years, claiming those have included “Chinese, Germans, Russians, a lot of Middle Easterners, Czechoslovakians.”
“I obviously don’t have any proof of it, but I talked to several agents that I trust,” the woman said about the increase in immigrants from places other than Mexico.
It’s been well-documented that increasing numbers of Central American migrants ― particularly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras ― have traveled to the border to request asylum in the last decade due to turmoil in their home countries. During the same period, unauthorized border crossings of Mexicans and people looking for seasonal work have significantly declined.
The president’s tweet sparked immediate skepticism from observers on Twitter, some of whom questioned how the woman interviewed even knew the objects were used for prayer, as opposed to sleeping.
Washington Post political analyst Josh Rogin noted over Twitter that reporters have told him migrants “often carry small heavy rugs to throw over the barbed wire” at the border before crossing and ditching the rugs.
Others called Trump out for racism.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that drugs, criminals and Middle Eastern terrorists move easily across open areas of the U.S.-Mexico border, despite little evidence.
The State Department explicitly says there is “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.” Drugs, too, are most often delivered to the U.S. via border checkpoints staffed by agents.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims traveling to the U.S. and, once in office, attempted to bar people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. Although initial versions of his travel ban were blocked in court, a watered-down version was ultimately allowed to go into effect.