Why We Think Senator McCain’s “Woman Scales 18-ft Border Fence” Story Is a Bag Job

Mar 28, 2013
10:17 AM

Yesterday, four U.S. senators from the Gang of Eight (John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Jeff Flake, and Michael Bennet) visited the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona, the city directly north of Nogales, Mexico. The purpose was for McCain and Flake, the two Republican Arizona senators whose state borders Mexico, to show Schumer and Bennet, the two Democratic senators who states do not border Mexico, what life was like on the border. As the Gang of Eight tries to complete a comprehensive immigration reform bill, you have to share the narrative that the border is not “secure,” right?

During their visit, something happened. A woman supposedly scaled an 18-ft. bollard fence and tried to enter the United States illegally. In downtown Nogales. In broad daylight. Near the presence of many Border Patrol agents, and a bunch of politicians in blue blazers and white shirts.

Coincidence? Convenient?


Let’s review: two Arizona GOP senators wanted to show two Democratic senators “real life” on the border. What better point to make than to have a live border crossing tweeted and later broadcast to prove their point?

Talk about a bag job. Last night we did a quick video response:

And if you want our reasons as to why we think this was all odd, here you go:

How could McCain tweet what he tweeted? Many outlets, including ABC News (“Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., soon tweeted about the event, saying:”) and FOX (“McCain sent out a Twitter picture Wednesday following the event…”), reported without hesitation that McCain himself tweeted out the following, along with a picture:

So, let’s get this right, ok? Senator McCain live-tweeted a picture showing himself and Schumer at 11:51 am on March 27? (FYI: The Twitter embed now has the tweet listed as being sent out at 6:51 pm, and we have no idea why.) How did McCain tweet and post a pic so efficiently, because his smartphone would surely have to have one very amazing panoramic and rotating view? It was clear that the tweet was not tweeted by McCain, but very likely from an aide after McCain approved the tweet. As to when the tweet was posted in relation to the woman clearing the fence, you can either go with ABC News’ “soon tweeted” report or FOX’s “following the event” report. This wasn’t a live tweet.

What about the second tweet?  McCain’s second tweet was posted two minutes right after the first tweet. First tweet (with picture of McCain and Schumer) was at 11:51 am (or 6:51 pm), while the second tweet was at 11:53 am (or 6:53 pm). So in two minutes, McCain (or his aide) had already figured out that a woman scaling a border fence in the middle of the day in Nogales was another “reminder that threats to our border security are real.” Got it.

What about the bollard fence? McCain’s tweet was really specific: “Just witnessed a woman successfully climb an 18-ft bollard fence a few yards from us in #Nogales,” yet all we see is a picture of McCain and Schumer. Is there any visual proof that the woman actually climbed an 18-ft. bollard fence? The ABC News video doesn’t clearly show the women’s fence-scaling success, and a screen grab from the video doesn’t really show a bollard fence, at least the Border Patrol’s official definition of a bollard fence (as we explain below):


According to the Border Patrol’s official Southwest Border Fences report (last updated 2011 and available on the Border Patrol’s official website), there are examples of bollard fences in California, but no examples in Arizona. Now, we are not suggesting that there isn’t a bollard fence in Nogales, just that there is no visual evidence of the women clearing an 18-ft. bollard fence, just a tweet from a senator’s Twitter profile, a senator who wants to show you the “real side” of border life. Here are the examples of fences that the Border Patrol lists in its official reports:


US Border Patrol official pictures


US Border Patrol official pictures

Listen to what the senators had to say after the incident. Interesting to note that ABC News had the “exclusive video” of a “desperate young woman sprinting her way out of Mexico” and only ABC. They also were the only ones who had detailed quotes from the senators:

“Well, I’d have to know all the details there to give you a judgment,” Schumer said. “One of the things we learned is that a lot of people cross the border are doing it for drug purposes, too. But I don’t know what happened in this situation.”

The incident was “surprising” to Bennet.

“I just have never seen it before,” he said.

For McCain, the incident was all-too-normal.

“One of the sad things about all of this is that most of those people who jump over the fence are doing that because they want a better life,” he said at the news conference following the tour. “And I understand that. So we separate the drug cartels from individuals or somebody trying to cross over so they improve their lives.”

So, with very little details, which Schumer even admitted, there was already talk about drug cartels and talk that this type of incident was “all-too-normal.” Talk about crafting the narrative for even more border security. By the way, the Associated Press also ran a story, and made sure to highlight Schumer:

During the tour, the senators saw border agents apprehend a woman who had climbed an 18-foot-tall bollard fence.

“You can read and you can study and you can talk but until you see things it doesn’t become reality,” said Schumer, who toured the border for the first time. “I’ll be able to explain this to my colleagues. Many of my colleagues say, ‘Why do we need to do anything more on the border?’ and we do. We should do more.”

President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass immigration reform this year. While ceding the details of the negotiations to Congress thus far, the president has stepped to the forefront of the debate this week to prod lawmakers to finish work on the bill.

Border security also is critical to McCain, and other Republicans, who contend that some areas along the border are far from secure.

The senators’ tour Wednesday — by both ground and air — allowed them to review manned and unmanned drones and different types of fences. They also watched as vehicles going to and from Mexico were scrutinized by border agents at the checkpoint in Nogales.

“In so many ways, whatever your views are on immigration, Arizona is ground zero,” Schumer said. “What I learned today is we have adequate manpower, but not adequate technology.”

Ahh, yes, the need for more “adequate technology.” All because a woman scaled an 18-ft. fence in the middle of the day, and no one has visual proof that she did what is now being reported in the AP and other major news outlets.

The narrative doesn’t match the facts. What does “all-too-normal” mean, as ABC News reports? Because if you look at actual Border Patrol apprehension statistics from the Tucson sector (which includes Nogales), you will see the following: in FY 2000, there were 616,346 apprehensions. By FY 2012, there were 102,303 apprehensions. That is an 84% drop in apprehensions. Does that mean that people are crossing the border more successfully and avoiding getting arrested? Or is it that border crossings are down and border security has gotten more efficient? We tend to side with the second scenario. As PolitiFact reports:

Is the flow of undocumented immigrants the lowest in 40 years?

When demographers try to measure the number of people crossing the border illegally, they usually refer to the net flow—arrivals to the United States minus departures. Lately, that number has been essentially a wash, according to statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center.

The center estimated that between 2010 and 2011, the number of immigrants from Mexico declined so much that the flow into Mexico was bigger than the flow out of Mexico since “probably in the 1930s,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer for Pew.

This is consistent with the kind of decline Obama was referring  to, but both Passel and Massey said Obama was likely referring to a somewhat different statistic — namely, apprehensions of individuals crossing from Mexico to the United States. Those numbers also support Obama’s claim.

Apprehension statistics are an imperfect gauge of population flow, since they can be affected by the magnitude of the border patrol effort. Still, while this statistic is not a “direct measure of flow across the border,” Passel said, it is “widely accepted as an indicator of the magnitude of the flow.”

So what does that data look like? In 2011, according to federal statistics compiled by Massey, the United States apprehended 327,577 individuals, a smaller number than in any year going back to 1970 — or just outside Obama’s 40-year window. And if you look at apprehensions per agent, it’s the lowest in an even longer period — since 1943, Massey said.

When in doubt, ask a local. As one local radio talk show host from Nogales posted last night on our Facebook: “This is BULL!!!! This was in my hometown and it was all a political set up to keep talking more border protection and less reform!!! BULL BULL BULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We’re the safest damn border between the 2 countries!!!!”

You decide for yourself, but we think that this was all a sham.