Fox News And Right-Wing Media Wrongly Used Six Middle Eastern Immigrants To Stoke Terrorism Fears

Six men who were apprehended at near the U.S.-Mexico border were not terrorists, but were actually fleeing oppression. HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Six Middle Eastern men who were arrested in Arizona after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015 and were cited by right-wing blogs and news outlets to stoke terrorism fears and promote the need for tougher border control were actually victims, not terrorists.

Records obtained recently by the Associated Press show that the FBI had quickly cleared the men, five Pakistanis and one Afghan, of any terror-related suspicion after their November, 2015 arrest 15 miles north of the border. But that didn't stop Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey or right-wing news outlets from exploiting the incident to raise the specter of terror, a fear made fresh by the Paris attacks that occurred just days earlier.

Three days after the men were taken into custody, Ducey issued a statement calling the incident "very troubling, especially in light of new threats on the United States from ISIS in a video released in just the last 24 hours." But federal authorities were not saying the same thing because, indeed, the men had been cleared.

Not only that, the Associated Press discovered, the men were victims themselves of brutal human traffickers. The Afghan told Border Patrol agents that he had traveled for seven months to reach U.S. soil. He trekked through at least 10 countries before making it into Arizona before tripping a sensor and being arrested.

"He was detained for weeks in Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico and paid nearly $15,000 in smuggling fees along the way," the AP reported.

The men told authorities the smugglers threw rocks at them if they walked too slowly and threatened to leave on man who injured his ankle. Another man paid the smugglers to walk slower. They spent days walking through a desert after running out of water in the first day, then navigated snowy mountainous regions without jackets.

The six men all cooperated with authorities and became witnesses in the cases against their two Mexican smugglers. When interviewed independently, they all gave similar accounts of verbal physical abuse by the smugglers.

Those men, Ernesto Dorame-Gonzalez and Martin Lopez-Alvarado, later pleaded guilty to smuggling charges, thanks to help from the undocumented immigrants.

Still, the arrest of the six Middle Eastern men made its rounds through right-wing blogs like before major outlets picked it up.

Fox News acknowledged that the men posed no threat of terrorism, though that didn't stop the network from raising a general concern about border security. Under the headline, "Testing the gates? Syrians nabbed south of the border, Arizona arrests stoke terror fears," Fox combined its coverage of the Arizona border crossing with an unrelated incident later that week of two Syrian refugee families who arrived at the U.S. border seeking asylum. The article said the incidents raised "concerns that Islamic State militants could be probing security."

The same day as that Fox report, then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted, "Eight Syrians were just caught on the southern border trying to get into the U.S. ISIS maybe? I told you so. WE NEED A BIG & BEAUTIFUL WALL!"

Eight Syrians were just caught on the southern border trying to get into the U.S. ISIS maybe? I told you so. WE NEED A BIG & BEAUTIFUL WALL!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2015

"The case highlights the highly politicized nature of the U.S.-Mexico border as hysteria sometimes overtakes facts in an era where President Donald Trump, during his campaign, labeled Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals," the AP reported. "The men cooperated with the government, and four have been deported."

The majority of illegal immigrants do enter the U.S. via the southern border, but very few of them come from the Middle East. It's more likely, according to the AP, potential terrorists would target the Canadian border to cross.

The Associated Press asked Ducey to comment about his statement linking the men to ISIS despite a lack of connection to the terror group. Ducey's spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said, "The governor continues to put public safety at the forefront."