One might think that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is primarily of concern for people in and around Iraq and Syria, but some politicians beg to differ. Over the past couple months, a number of House members (and a Senator and governor here or there) have made increasingly specific statements about the perceived danger of ISIS members coming to the US, particularly by way of the Mexican border.
On one end of the spectrum, there are vague hypotheticals like the ones Texas governor and likely 2016 GOP contender Rick Perry has been posing. While noting he had "no clear evidence" this was happening, he expressed an "obvious, great concern that — because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across — that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be." Or fellow 2016 possibility Sen. Mario Rubio (R-FL), who when asked by Fox News' Sean Hannity if ISIS could cross the border, answered, "Sure, potentially."
Statements like these are basically un-factcheckable, since it's obviously conceptually possible that people with terrorist affiliations could, at some point, sneak across the border. Some tweets from people claiming to be affiliated with ISIS have threatened attacks within the US, but there's no indication that the group's actual leadership is at all interested in that. Perry and Rubio's statements aren't outright wrong so much as they give excessive credence to a possibility for which there's little real evidence.
But others have made statements that are more falsifiable. For those cases, we reached out to the relevant Congressional offices in search of supporting evidence. In most cases, we came up short.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
On Fox News' On the Record with Greta van Susteren, Hunter declared that "At least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas." He cited the Border Patrol as his source:
The Department of Homeland Security has said "the suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground." When the Huffington Post's Igor Bobic contacted Hunter's office for a reply to DHS, spokesman Joe Kasper stated that Hunter had a "high level source" and that DHS was "actively discouraging any talk of IS on the border," adding, "it makes sense that the left hand of DHS doesn’t know what the right hand is doing -- it’s been that way for a long time and we don’t expect that to change."
Kasper also commented to Buzzfeed's Jim Dalrymple, saying the comments referred to three groups of ISIS fighters: four who were caught on September 10, four who were caught on or around October 7, and two who were caught sometime between those dates. Kasper sourced the October 7 captures to the right-wing advocacy/watchdog group Judicial Watch, and the September 10 captures to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). But Chaffetz stated the four Islamists he claims were caught that day were members of groups other than ISIS, which was confirmed by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who said they were members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The US classifies the PKK as a terrorist group but it is quite active in the fight against ISIS.
When we requested corroborating evidence for Hunter's statements, Kasper referred us to the Buzzfeed piece.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
Cotton, a one-term Congressman who's running against Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) for the Senate this year, was recorded at a town hall saying that ISIS "collaborate[s] with drug cartels in Mexico":
Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas
You can hear him make the claim at the 10:50 mark here:
Cotton's office has not respond to a request for evidence for his claims.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY)
The lone Democrat getting in on the game, Bishop claimed during a speech that 100 Americans have left to join ISIS, and 40 of them have since returned to the US, and are currently under FBI monitoring:
Bishop's office has not respond to a request for evidence for his claims.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)
Franks claimed on a conference call recently that ISIS had set up shop in Ciudad Juarez, a city in Mexico bordering El Paso, Texas:
It is true, that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks. So there’s no question that they have designs on trying to come into Arizona. The comment that I’ve made is that if unaccompanied minors can cross the border then certainly trained terrorists probably can to. It is something that is real.
Buzzfeed has the audio here; both DHS and an anonymous federal law enforcement source quoted by a local Arizona ABC affiliate disputed the idea that ISIS is in Juarez. Franks later told Politifact that he had gotten the information from "an Internet report," and admitted that DHS had said that report "overstated" the situation.
Franks' office has not respond to a request for evidence for his claims.