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June 17, 2024

How the Right Shapes the Immigration Debate from Panama

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Laura Loomer, a right-wing activist, recently interviewed Ayub Ibrahim, a 20-year-old migrant from Somalia, in a migrant camp in Panama. Mr. Ibrahim later said he felt ambushed.

The treacherous migrant crossing in Panama is drawing packs of American activists who are distorting how immigration is perceived, and debated, at home.

Ayub Ibrahim had just walked out of the jungle. His feet still ached. A month earlier, he had left his home in Somalia, fleeing a civil war, he said, traveling first to Turkey, then Brazil and finally crossing on foot through a 66-mile expanse of wilderness known as the Darién Gap.

Resting in the sweltering San Vicente migrant camp in Panama with hundreds of other recent arrivals, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a half-dozen Americans with video cameras.

“Do you guys like Ilhan Omar?” one person asked. “What do you think about Joe Biden?”

Mr. Ibrahim, 20, answered the questions. He said he liked and admired Ms. Omar, the first Somali-American to serve in Congress. He doesn’t follow American politics, he added, but thinks Mr. Biden is a good president. When asked if Mr. Biden or former President Donald J. Trump would be better for immigrants, he chose Mr. Biden.

Later, Mr. Ibrahim would say he had felt ambushed and confused by the questions. He hadn’t intended to make a political statement.

But by then, it was too late.

One of his questioners, Laura Loomer, a right-wing activist and former Republican candidate for Congress, had already posted an edited video of the conversation online. It had rocketed around the internet, amassing nearly two million views on X.

The caption read: “Somali illegal aliens proclaim support for Ilhan Omar and Joe Biden inside Panama migrant camp!”

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