President Donald J. Trump speaks during a listening session on domestic and international human trafficking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 23 February 2017. 
Olivier Douliery / POOL

It’s not too late for Trump to learn what human trafficking is

Donald Trump announced his shutdown surrender on Friday afternoon from the White House’s Rose Garden, and about halfway through his remarks, his teleprompter told the president, “[Talk about Human Trafficking].”

And so, Trump did exactly that. From the transcript:

“Human traffickers – the victims are women and children. Maybe to a lesser extent, believe or not, children. Women are tied up. They’re bound. Duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths. In many cases, they can’t even breathe. They’re put in the backs of cars or vans or trucks. They don’t go through your port of entry. They make a right turn going very quickly. They go into the desert areas, or whatever areas you can look at. And as soon as there’s no protection, they make a left or a right into the United States of America. There’s nobody to catch them. There’s nobody to find them.

“They can’t come through the port, because if they come through the port, people will see four women sitting in a van with tape around their face and around their mouth. Can’t have that.”

For those who regularly listen to Trump’s rhetoric about the border and his case for a giant border wall, these unscripted comments were quite familiar. The president talks about bound women, struggling to breathe and tied with tape, all the time.

Like so many of his claims, Trump’s details appear to fictional. The Washington Post  reported, “[H]uman-trafficking experts and advocates for immigrant women have said they are perplexed by this increasingly repeated story in Trump’s repertoire – and are at a loss for where he got his information. It was not from them, they say; in fact, they have no idea what he is talking about.”

Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, told the Post, “I think his statements are completely divorced from reality. That’s not a fact pattern that we see.”

Dara Lind advanced the story a bit further over the weekend, explaining that the Trump administration has apparently taken steps to find evidence that would support the president’s odd assertions.

[T]wo weeks after Trump had started talking about tape-gagged women – when a January 17 Washington Post article had questioned the claim – a top Border Patrol official had to email agents to ask if they had “any information” that the claim was actually true.

The email, shown to Vox by a source within Border Patrol, was sent as a “request for information” by an assistant Border Patrol chief, apparently on behalf of the office of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan (referred to internally as “C-1”). It asked agents to reply within less than two hours with “any information (in any format)” regarding claims of tape-gagged women – and even linked to the Post article “for further info.”

Vox’s source indicated that they and others in their sector hadn’t heard anything that would back up Trump’s claims, but wasn’t sure if agents in other sectors had provided information. However, no one from the Trump administration has come forward to offer evidence for the claim, either before or after the internal Border Patrol email was sent. (Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.)

There are a few possible explanations of this, but given the White House’s usual m.o. – start with Trump’s dubious claim, then retroactively work backwards in the hopes of finding evidence to bolster the mistake – it’s hardly outrageous to wonder about the motivations behind the “request for information.”