Fact Check

Biden's 'Executive Order 9066' Gives Migrants Who Illegally Enter US $5K Visa Gift Cards?

The rumor included claims about free plane tickets, free cell phones and, strangely, an executive order issued in 1942.

Published Feb. 20, 2024

 (Anadolu / Getty Images)
Image Via Anadolu / Getty Images
Claim:
Executive Order 9066, signed by U.S. President Joe Biden, provides immigrants who enter the United States illegally a cell phone, a free plane ticket to a destination of their choosing and a $5000 Visa Gift Card.

On Dec. 5, 2023, Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, and a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, posted a video to his X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) account claiming that upon entering the United States, migrants who cross the border illegally are given a cell phone, a domestic plane ticket to a destination of their choosing and a $5,000 Visa gift card.

"That's the truth, folks. God bless!" Lamb concluded.

It was not the truth. That did not stop the video from making the rounds on social media, however. On Feb. 19, 2024, the video began circulating again, this time with an oddly phrased twist.

"Evil Joe Biden's Executive Order 9066 gives illegals a $5,000 VISA card to use as they wish. Joe Biden is BUYING votes! Do you agree?" one post on X read.

(X user @CryptidAnalysis)

There is no truthful information contained within this caption. Furthermore, Lamb's video greatly misrepresents the truth of what's happening on the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's a breakdown of these claims.

Executive Order 9066

The mention of Executive Order 9066 jumped out at us immediately for two reasons: First, it is probably the most infamous executive order signed in the history of the United States; and second, it was signed in World War II and has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Less than three months after Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that led to America entering World War II, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It authorized the United States military to forcibly move anyone in the country deemed a threat to national security to inland "internment camps." Over the course of 1942, over 120,000 Japanese Americans, many of them U.S. citizens, were deprived of their civil liberties, forcibly evicted and shuttled into internment camps in remote regions of the western United States.

To this day, Executive Order 9066 is considered to have been one of the grossest violations of the U.S. Constitution in the nation's history. It was signed on Feb. 19, 1942. (We postulate that the posts re-sharing Lamb's video on or around Feb. 19 may have included mention of that executive order to slip them into searches and social media feeds commemorating the anniversary of Roosevelt's signing it.)

The Cell Phone

As reported by reliable media outlets like the The Associated Press, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has occasionally provided cell phones to migrants who have crossed into the United States. However, Lamb's video leaves out context that is vital to understanding what is actually going on here. The phrase "cell phone" is doing some heavy lifting.

An ICE program called Alternatives to Detention allows migrants waiting for deportation hearings from the United States' painfully slow immigration courts to "remain in their communities — contributing to their families and community organizations and, as appropriate, concluding their affairs in the U.S. — as they move through immigration proceedings or prepare for departure."

Individuals are considered for the program on a case-by-case basis to determine their required level of supervision. As a part of the program, many migrants download an application called SmartLink onto their cell phones, which allows ICE to monitor them with less hassle. If an immigrant eligible for the program does not have access to a smartphone, however, ICE provides them with a phone that has very limited capabilities.

This phone can only connect to Wi-Fi, not cellular data, has limited calling capabilities and no messaging capabilities, and can only access the SmartLink application. The phone must be returned if its use is no longer required, for example if the immigrant acquires a personal phone or is deemed to need additional supervision. Critics have pushed back on this program as it stands, claiming that it violates rights to privacy.

The Plane Ticket

Claiming that migrants are given a "plane ticket to wherever they want to go in this country" is also a gross misrepresentation of the truth.

First, most migrants do not receive any federal assistance towards traveling in the United States. If they do, these programs are sponsored by nonprofit organizations or local governments. Or, more recently, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's "Operation Lone Star," which has bused over 50,000 migrants to sanctuary cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. in about 18 months.

According to a report from Nexstar released by Austin, Texas, NBC affiliate KXAN, Abbott's busing program has cost the state $124 million. Meanwhile, according to an October 2023 ABC report, the conditions on the buses are "disgusting and inhuman." In August 2023, a 3-year-old child died on an Operation Lone Star bus from Brownsville, Texas, to Chicago.

In rare cases, nonprofit organizations and programs like Operation Lone Star have used plane tickets. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis famously sent a plane of migrants to the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. As Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson tightened restrictions on the rules about when buses could legally drop off migrants, Abbott's team responded by simply dropping migrants off outside the city limits or by using flights.

Overall, however, we found no evidence for the claim that every migrant who entered the country was simply given a plane ticket to their final destination.

The Gift Card

This is just false. The Associated Press, Politifact and Verify have all cited evidence to debunk this exact claim, and Snopes has fact-checked similar claims about the federal government providing money for immigrants who enter the United States without authorization. In order to independently verify this for ourselves, we reached out to ICE and U.S. Border Patrol to ask for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

Another source we used to fact-check the various parts of this claim was the work of the Gonzo journalist and documentarian Andrew Callaghan. On "Channel 5 with Andrew Callaghan," his YouTube channel, Callaghan interviewed migrants who had just entered the United States, followed an Operation Lone Star bus until he was pulled over and stopped by police, and documented his illegal crossing of the Rio Grande river with two young men, called "coyotes," who guide migrants across the border for a fee.

One of the X posts we noticed from Feb. 19, 2024, spreading this claim suggested that this supposed gift card was intended to be used as reimbursement for so called "coyotes" who guide migrants across the border, who reportedly charge $5,000.

(X user @hshLauraJ)

The coyotes Callaghan interviewed gave estimates ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 per person for a border crossing. However, none of the migrants Callaghan spoke to mentioned anything about being given money or gift cards by ICE or U.S. Border Patrol.

Sources

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Border Patrol Arrest. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5MxAMKmXAM. Accessed 20 Feb. 2024.
"Deportation Agents Use Smartphone App to Monitor Immigrants." AP News, 11 Mar. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/immigration-covid-technology-business-health-2823ba115ab2c120d728881c0a7bb5e8.
"Executive Order 9066: Resulting in Japanese-American Incarceration (1942)." National Archives, 22 Sept. 2021, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/executive-order-9066.
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Jack Izzo is a Chicago-based journalist and two-time "Jeopardy!" alumnus.