Since January 4, 2019, Donald Trump has repeatedly invoked one image in support of his demand for The Wall, that of woman with tape on their mouths being trafficked across the border. Here is what he said on January 4:
“One of the things that happens there is human traffickers — maybe that’s the worst of all — where you’ll have traffickers having three and four women with tape on their mouths and tied up, sitting in the back of a van or a car, and they’ll drive that van or the car not through a port of entry, where we have very talented people that look for every little morsel of drugs, or even people, or whatever they’re looking for. Not going to go there. They get off the road and they drive out into the desert, and they come on, they make a left turn. Usually it’s a left, not a right.”
Trump repeated his claim of women in vans with tape over their mouths 10 times over a 22 day period. It sometimes seemed as though the taped women had replaced MS-13 as the principal reason for the Federal government shutdown. Even as Trump announced the reopening of the Federal government on Friday, he once again defended his failed showdown with Nancy Pelosi by saying “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.”
While no one will deny that human trafficking is humanitarian concern, experts agree that those being trafficked are not bound and gagged while crossing the border. Those being trafficked are often deceived by false promises or kept compliant through threats, but they are not physically bound and kidnapped.
The fact-checkers at the Washington Post summarize Trump’s bound women meme:
In Trump’s telling, the adhesive is sometimes blue tape. Other times it is electrical tape or duct tape.
In some instances, the descriptions are more salacious and graphic. “Human trafficking — grabbing women, in particular — and children, but women — taping them up, wrapping tape around their mouths so they can’t shout or scream, tying up their hands behind their back and even their legs and putting them in a back seat of a car or a van — three, four, five, six, seven at a time,” the president said in the Cabinet Room on Jan. 11.
With an eerie specificity, Trump has characterized these acts as commonplace.
Like more than 7,000 other statements by Trump, the fact-checkers find this claim to be false. According to the Washington Post:
…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.
“I think his statements are completely divorced from reality,” said Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “That’s not a fact pattern that we see.”
In interviews with The Washington Post this week, nine aid workers and academics who have worked on the border or have knowledge of trafficking there said the president’s tape anecdote did not mirror what they have seen or heard. A separate story reported in the Toronto Star cited several additional experts who said Trump’s lurid narrative — migrant women bound, gagged and driven across the border — does not align with their known reality.
“I have no idea the roots of it,” said Edna Yang, assistant executive director of American Gateways, a Texas-based immigration legal services and advocacy nonprofit. “I haven’t seen a case like that.”