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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Carson on Border Apprehensions

Ben Carson said that “a lot” of the people captured crossing the U.S. border and then released are from Iraq, Somalia and Russia. He’s wrong.

Available statistics show that immigrants from those countries make up less than 1 percent of the people caught entering the U.S. illegally. They also represent less than 1 percent of the total number with criminal convictions who were later released from custody.

Carson, a Republican candidate for president, made the claim during a Sept. 25 speech at the Value Voter’s Summit, where he criticized U.S. efforts to patrol the border with Mexico.

Carson, Sept. 25: The other thing we need to be thinking about in that regard is sealing our borders because, you know, the fact of the matter is, having gone down there recently and looked at how porous those borders are, anybody could get through there. … And, you know, when they capture people, ICE tells them to release them, and a lot of those people are not from Honduras and Mexico. They’re from Iraq, and Somalia and Russia, and many of them are hardened criminals.

We requested supporting evidence from Carson’s campaign, but we didn’t hear back.

However, Carson was questioned about the topic during a Sept. 27 appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” Host Martha Raddatz said she hadn’t seen any statistics to support his claim and asked if he had any evidence. Carson didn’t provide any data and said he’s “not sure” he would trust government statistics. He then went on to say he had “talked to a number of the sheriffs on the borders and they’ve told me what kind of people are coming over.”

But what Carson said he was told doesn’t square with federal statistics, whether he wants to trust them or not.

The most recent data published by the Department of Homeland Security show that, combined, Iraqis (169), Somalians (214) and Russians (320) accounted for less than 1 percent of the 662,483 apprehensions nationwide in fiscal year 2013.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection also provided us with more recent apprehension figures for persons eligible for deportation — a subset of total apprehensions — in fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015. The data show that citizens of Iraq, Somalia and Russia accounted for 44 of 420,789 apprehensions in 2013; 43 of 486,651 apprehensions in 2014; and 25 of 306,288 apprehensions in 2015. Again, all less than one percent of the total figure.

On the other hand, apprehensions of immigrants from Mexico and Honduras, the other two countries mentioned by Carson, made up over half of the totals in each of those years.

What Carson Was Told

We don’t know every sheriff that Carson got his information from since his campaign didn’t respond to us.

We know that at least one person Carson spoke with about border activity was Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu during a tour of the Arizona border with Mexico in late August.

And we also know that earlier that month, Babeu’s office published a news release that said state law enforcement was notified that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had released “3 violent criminal illegals” in Arizona on Aug. 11. The men — Musa Salah Abdelaziz Abdalla, Dennis rievitch Tsoukanov and Nasser Hanna Hermez — were from Sudan, Russia, and Iraq, respectively. But that’s three people, and one was from the Sudan, not Somalia as Carson said.

We checked with ICE, and an official there told us there were 30,558 people living in the U.S. illegally who had criminal convictions and who were released from the agency’s custody in fiscal 2014. Of those, 61 of them were from Iraq, 121 were from Somalia and 60 were from Russia.

“In 2014, the majority of releases of serious criminal offenders were made pursuant to federal court decisions or bond decisions by immigration judges,” the official wrote in an email.

On top of that, of the 315,943 total immigrants who ICE removed from the U.S. in fiscal 2014, 29 were from Iraq, 65 were from Somalia and 112 were from Russia.

Either way, Carson’s claim is not supported by federal data. People from Iraq, Somalia and Russia don’t represent a large percentage of the immigrants captured entering the U.S. illegally, or those released from ICE custody, or those eventually removed from the U.S.

— D’Angelo Gore