The image suggested by President Trump’s tweets is dramatic. One can almost see the swarms of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, decked out in tactical gear, pouring out of armored personnel carriers and rappelling from helicopters. They sweep into towns and cities overrun by gang members, blowing through barricades and rounding up criminals like special operators taking out ISIS.
You might think it would be weird for anything like that to be happening in the U.S. without it being huge news, and you’d be right. These images, like the presidential tweets that conjured them, are fantasy. The president’s statements about both ICE and MS-13 over the last few months have consistently fudged the facts on both the role of the agency and the magnitude of the gang.
On Saturday, Trump said:
The Democrats are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women that I have ever seen. I have watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13 & clean out the toughest of situations. They are great!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2018
Then, on Tuesday, he added this, reprising his use of “infestation” to describe immigrants:
When we have an “infestation” of MS-13 GANGS in certain parts of our country, who do we send to get them out? ICE! They are tougher and smarter than these rough criminal elelments that bad immigration laws allow into our country. Dems do not appreciate the great job they do! Nov.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
Trump’s assertion that he “watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13” should be taken no more literally than his claim to have seen thousands of people celebrating in Jersey City, New Jersey, on September 11. Put simply: It didn’t happen.