This week started with president Donald Trump claiming that “unknown Middle Easterners” were traveling with a caravan of migrants making its way to the US. Yesterday, vice president Mike Pence said it was “inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people.” When asked to verify those claims, a senior administration official suggested reporters get in touch with Mexican authorities to find out who is and isn’t part of the caravan.
The Mexican agencies that oversee immigration, the Department of the Interior and the National Immigration Institute, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But their statistics show that while it’s conceivable there might be someone from the Middle East in the caravan, it’s also unlikely.
Out of the 86,000 immigrants that Mexican authorities caught traveling through Mexico from January to August of this year, only 72 were citizens of countries from the region covered by US Department of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. (It includes Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.) That’s a sliver of the nearly 1,267 American citizens who were found to be in Mexico illegally during that period.
The vast majority of immigrants who go through Mexico hail from Central America, the data show.
Over the past three years, people from the Middle East and North Africa have made up less than .1% of those apprehended. Here’s the number of immigrants reported by Interior Department from January 2016 to August 2018 from countries covered by the State department’s Near Eastern office. (Some countries, such as Oman and Kuwait, are not included, since Mexican authorities didn’t encounter a single immigrant from those places.)
It’s nearly impossible to pin down the exact make-up of the caravan. Media fact-checkers have rated Trump’s claim about its Middle Eastern members unverified. Yesterday, the president admitted that he, in fact, has no evidence to prove what he said.