On CNN’s New Day on Friday, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks was pressed to explain why he condemned President Obama’s use of executive authority for some of his immigration policies but supports President Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency over border security in order to sidestep Congress and find funding for a border wall. In response, Brooks lashed out against CNN and accused co-host John Berman of “once again” misleading the public.
“Those are different circumstances than what we’re facing today,” Brooks argued. “What we’re facing today is a national emergency of major proportions. And Congress has delegated to the president of the United States the right—and it’s express United States code, you can look it up yourself—the right to declare a national emergency under certain circumstances.”
When Berman asked Brooks what, exactly, the national emergency of major proportions was, Brooks made his pitch:
Let’s look at 9/11 by way of example. We lost 3,000 people, more or less, on 9/11. That justified going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our troops are still there to varying degrees. Three thousand. With the southern border, we have the loss of at least 15,000 Americans a year—that’s part of the justification.
Asked to elaborate, Brooks listed some numbers: Two thousand homicides by undocumented immigrants, as well as another 15,000 or 16,000 Americans who die from heroin overdoses, “90 percent of which comes across our porous southern border.”
“How many dead people do you have to have, John, before you’ll consider it an emergency?” Brooks demanded.
Now, there are a few problems with Brooks’ reasoning. First: Studies show that undocumented immigrants commit crime at lower levels than native-born Americans. The 2,000 homicides he cites seems to come from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement report that has been misinterpreted and misused by anti-immigrant conservatives to stoke fear and win support for the wall.
Second, while the number of heroin overdoses is tragically high, and while most heroin smuggled into the U.S. does come through the southwest border, a wall, or greater border security in general, would do little to reduce the influx of heroin: Most comes through legal ports of entry, which a wall would do nothing to solve. On top of that, as the New York Times notes, the more deadly phase of the opioid epidemic we are now entering involves fentanyl—a drug that primarily originates in China and either is sent to Canada and transported south or mailed directly into the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest National Drug Threat Assessment report. Fentanyl brought in through Mexico still typically is smuggled through legal ports of entry.
Berman presented Brooks with these facts, which Brooks both called false and “immaterial.” But while the comparison to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks might strike some as particularly galling, Brooks is simply stating talking points that have circulated in conservative circles through the duration of the government shutdown—and been spread by Trump himself—to justify the president’s demands for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.
Trump’s statements that he would consider declaring a national emergency has been met with skepticism by legal experts who have explained he would face immediate legal challenges from Democrats, given that he will have a hard time convincing a court that there is, in fact, a national emergency. But for many conservative figures like Brooks, those facts and legal concerns don’t appear to matter as much as the feeling that there’s an emergency. As he told Berman: “If you want liberal propaganda, you go ahead and use it.”