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‘Everything he is saying isn’t true’: Congolese governments denounce Trump’s baseless stories about emptied prisons

There is no evidence for former President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that “the Congo” has emptied prisons to allow violent criminals to come to the US border as migrants – and the governments of both the Democratic Republic of Congo and the neighboring Republic of Congo say Trump’s assertions are entirely false.

“Everything he is saying isn’t true,” Democratic Republic of Congo spokesperson Patrick Muyaya Katembwe told CNN in a text message on Thursday. Asked specifically about Trump’s claims about Congolese prisons being emptied of violent criminals, he said, “Never ever, it’s not true.” And, he said, “we want him to stop” telling these stories, since “it’s very bad for the country.”

Serge Mombouli, the Republic of Congo’s ambassador to the US, said in an email to CNN on Friday: “There is no truth or any sign nor a single fact supporting such a claim or statement.”

A CNN fact check found the same.

Facts First: Trump’s claims are baseless. Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, plus both pro-immigration and anti-immigration organizations in the US, told CNN they have not seen any evidence of Congolese prisons being emptied. Trump’s presidential campaign and an allied super PAC did not respond to requests to provide any evidence. A CNN search of two media databases turned up no evidence. And federal figures show that there is no “very big” influx of Congolese migrants of any kind, let alone former prisoners in particular.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, keeps making claims about emptied Congolese prisons as he criticizes President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration. For example, Trump said during a Fox News town hall in late February: “We have people coming in from everywhere. They’re coming in from the Congo. They interviewed some people last night. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Congo.’ ‘Where did you live?’ ‘Prison.’ They’re emptying out their prisons into our country.”

During a visit to the border later in February, Trump said, “The Congo – a very big population coming in from jails from the Congo. You look at the jails now, you take a look at the jails throughout the region, but more importantly, throughout the world. They’re emptying out because they’re dumping them into the United States.”

But media databases contain no corroboration for these stories. And human rights organizations that monitor the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Republic of Congo say they know of no evidence for them.

“I’ve not heard anything about emptying of Congolese prisons,” Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Amnesty International senior researcher Abdoulaye Diarra, who studies the Republic of Congo, told CNN in a text message on Friday: “To my knowledge and according to other Congolese organisations, there has been no mass release of prisoners from Congolese prisons” in the Republic of Congo.

Even if there had been such a prisoner release, it would not prove Trump’s claim about a “very big population” of Congolese former prisoners arriving at the border. Official federal data shows that Congolese migrants in general, not ex-prisoners in particular, represent a tiny fraction of overall arrivals.

In the first four months of the 2024 fiscal year, through January, there were just 320 Border Patrol encounters at the southern border with people from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Republic of Congo, according to official data provided to CNN by US Customs and Border Protection this week. That is a minuscule fraction of the more than 753,000 total Border Patrol encounters with people from around the world in those four months

CNN also reached out to two US organizations that advocate reduced immigration levels in search of any evidence for Trump’s claims about emptied Congolese prisons, since these groups sometimes serve as sources for Trump’s rhetoric about the border. One responded: “We don’t have any information about this one way or the other,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

And the pro-immigration Migration Policy Institute, which said it is unaware of any country emptying prisons to send people to the US, noted that Trump’s stories about “the Congo” are just the latest in his series of unsubstantiated claims about foreign countries supposedly emptying prisons and mental health facilities for nefarious migration purposes. “This week, the Congo. In the past, Latin America.
Tomorrow, likely another country,” spokesperson Michelle Mittelstadt scoffed of Trump’s claims.

Trump’s evolving claims

Indeed, Trump has a habit of making his false or unsubstantiated stories more dramatic or colorful over time.

His claims about “the Congo” are part of a long-running series on the same theme. He has for years made baseless claims that various foreign countries are intentionally sending violent and otherwise undesirable people to the US as migrants. During his 2016 presidential campaign, for example, he made such claims about Mexico.

Then, while running again in 2023, Trump repeatedly told an unsubstantiated story about mental health institutions in South America, including “insane asylums,” being deliberately emptied for nefarious migration purposes. Trump’s campaign was unable to provide any corroboration for that story, though he had repeatedly cited a supposed media report.

Trump also made unproven claims in 2023 about migrants being emptied out of foreign prisons. By January 2024, he was referring specifically to migrants who had been prisoners in “the Congo.” Then, by February 2024, he was claiming that the Congolese migrants acknowledged having been incarcerated for “murder.”

He has never provided a specific source for any of these remarks.

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