President Trump on Thursday said that "women are being raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before" during the caravan of asylum-seekers, mostly from Honduras, who are currently heading north in Mexico. A BuzzFeed News reporter who has been traveling with the caravan for 12 days says there's no evidence that's true.
Trump's comments came during an event in West Virginia that was supposed to be about the new tax law. He went off script from the very beginning — at one point, he literally tossed his notes into the air — and instead delivered rambling remarks that included some statements that were not based on facts.
"Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened," he said Thursday about his speech kicking off his presidential campaign. "Everybody said, oh, he was so tough. I used the word rape. Yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before."
Trump appeared to be saying that the caravan was somehow responsible for the rape of women. Or that men in Mexico are raping women in the caravan. There is no evidence either are true.
BuzzFeed News immigration reporter Adolfo Flores then tweeted, "I’ve been with the caravan for 12 days and haven’t seen or heard of anyone being “raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.”
He added, "To be clear I haven’t heard of anyone being raped in or around the caravan."
One of the organizers for the caravan also told BuzzFeed News that there had been no reports of rape during the group's nearly two-week trip so far.
"None whatsoever," Rodrigo Abeja said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security didn't respond on the record. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders didn't respond to a request for comment.
But Sanders did speak to Fox News, conflating the caravan with smugglers.
"Not sure why the media is acting like this isn't a well-established fact --women and young girls are brutally victimized on the journey north," Sanders told Fox News. "Strikes me as quite bizarre that reporters would try to cover up the gross atrocities perpetuated by smugglers and coyotes."
The caravan organizers, a group called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, have said that one of their aims in escorting people from Honduras and other countries to Mexico and the US has been to protect them from assaults that asylum seekers and migrants can encounter. The group also uses the caravans to highlight the violence, poverty, and political oppression people fleeing Central American face back home.
The group organized men and some women to run security, with members of the security committee taking turns keeping watch and patrolling while people slept out in the open in town plazas.
The threats of violence and sexual assault faced by Central American women on their journey to the US, which are documented by human rights group Amnesty International, have long been a talking point on the far right and used to argue for tighter US immigration laws.
On Thursday, Trump tied the alleged rape of women in the caravan to the need to tighten US immigration laws and build a wall on the border with Mexico.
"So we have to change our laws," he said. "And the Democrats, what they're doing is just, it’s insanity, nobody understands what’s going on. So we have to have strong borders. We’re going to have the wall."
Sanders pointed Fox to a line in this recent Los Angeles Times story about smugglers: "Robberies, rapes and assaults — perpetrated by smugglers, cartel members and Mexican immigration agents — are common." And this 2014 Huffington Post piece headlined “80% of Central American Women, Girls are Raped Crossing into the U.S.”
Trump, when he announced his campaign, said, "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
He echoed those comments on Thursday when he said, "They're not sending their good ones" in reference to people who immigrate to the United States using the diversity lottery program, which is only available to people born in countries with low rates of immigration to the US
Trump also turned his attention to California, referring to an unsubstantiated claim he's made multiple times before, that millions of people illegally registered to vote twice in states where he lost the popular vote.
"In many places the same person in California votes many times. They always like to say, 'Oh that's a conspiracy theory.' It's not a conspiracy theory. Millions and millions of people," he said.
"Sanctuary cities, It’s the worst. It’s basically a city to protect a lot of people that are bad people. Really bad. You look at Kate Steinle you look at so many bad people," he said, referring to a case in which an undocumented man was accused of shooting and killing a woman in San Francisco in 2015. Last December, a jury found him not guilty in her death.
He went on to say that ICE, under his administration, has "gone into towns in Long Island where we’ve taken MS-13 and we’ve actually liberated towns."
"The people are clapping and screaming. Their town's been liberated. It's like it's a war," he added.
Trump also referred to an unrelated terrorist attack in Manhattan in November last year carried out by Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, who investigators say appears to have been radicalized online in the US, not in his home country.
"Came in through chain migration or he might have also come in through a lottery. But he brought a lot of people with him, they say 23," Trump said.
Trump made the claim that Saipov helped 23 people immigrate to the US through family-based or "chain" migration in November — federal authorities were not able to confirm this.
After speaking for nineteen and a half minutes, Trump said, “This was going to be my remarks — two minutes, right?”
He threw the piece of paper with his remarks into the air, to laughter from the crowd at the event.