Fact Check: Department Of Homeland Security Officials Did NOT Say Illegal Border Crossings May Spread Coronavirus

Hoax Alert

  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fact Check: Department Of Homeland Security Officials Did NOT Say Illegal Border Crossings May Spread Coronavirus

Did the U.S. Department of Homeland Security say that they fear illegal border crossings may increase the spread of the novel coronavirus? No, that's not true: The headline of an article in The Washington Times is not supported by the reporting in the story. The article did not quote any official as saying any such fears exist.

The claim appeared in an article published by The Washington Times on March 4, 2020, titled "DHS officials fear illegal border crossings may spread coronavirus" (archived here). It opened:

Some 328 immigrants from China have been caught crossing the border illegally so far this year, according to Homeland Security data that raises the prospect a coronavirus carrier could sneak into the country via the U.S.-Mexico border.

Three other people from South Korea -- another country with rapidly spreading cases -- have also been arrested at the border, as have 122 people from the Dominican Republican, where the coronavirus has now been detected.

All told, more than 1,000 migrants a day are caught attempting to sneak in illegally from Mexico, which detected its first case last week, and since has identified five others.

Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:

DHS links coronavirus to border; 328 Chinese illegals caught so far this year

Some 328 illegal immigrants from China have been nabbed jumping the U.S.-Mexico border so far this year, according to Homeland Security data that raises the prospect a coronavirus carrier could sneak into the country via the border.

The headline of the article is false. The story did not quote any DHS official - by name or anonymously - who said that immigrants who illegally cross the border may spread the novel coronavirus.

There was a vague reference to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf raising the issue of immigrants not arriving with their medical history, but that does not suggest they have the novel coronavirus. The newspaper quoted an anonymous official who mentioned the flu, but that is not the same medical issue as the novel coronavirus causing health and economic concerns globally.

On the contrary, the article quoted President Trump, who downplayed concerns about immigrants spreading the coronavirus:

President Trump last week had floated the possibility of closing border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico, though this week he downplayed that option, saying he didn't see the border as much of a vulnerability.

"We're not seeing a lot of evidence in that area," he said -- though he added, "We're closing it, I guess, automatically because we have a very strong border there now."

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalists to rank the reliability of websites, describes The Washington Times as:

A daily national newspaper owned by the Unification Church, publishing conservative news and commentary. The site has not corrected years-old false stories.

According to NewsGuard, the site can generally be trusted to maintain journalistic standards. Read their full assessment here.

We wrote about The Washington Times before. Here are our most recent articles that mention the site:

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

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