Protecting the 1,954-mile Mexico-U.S. border, as some pundits assert, is not just an economic issue, or a problem of criminal drug trafficking and gun running. It threatens America’s national security. In an August 13, 2013 op/ed in The Washington Times, Retired Admiral James Lyons, who was senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, stated, “Fixing our porous borders is one of combating the threat of terrorism that America faces. In the various efforts to reform the U.S. immigration system, often overlooked in the debate is its impact on national security.”
The statistics are alarming: according to an August 1, 2011 investigative report in the Columbus Dispatch, the United Nations estimates that 97 percent of the illegal immigrants who enter the U.S. clandestinely do so across the U.S.-Mexican border. However, only 20 percent of illegal aliens are caught. Smuggling illegal aliens across the border is now a $6.6 billion industry for Mexican crime syndicates.
In an interview with this writer, Penal County Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu stated, “Pinal County is roughly 70 miles north of the border. In 2010, the U.S. Border Patrol reported 212,202 illegal aliens were caught in the Tucson sector alone. The Border Patrol admits for everyone captured, another 2.7 make it into the United States undetected. Of the individuals who are apprehended, as many as 30 percent of them already have a criminal record in the United States.” Ongoing, even increasing, human trafficking and drug smuggling has a new wrinkle: Michael Braun, former Chief of Operations at the Drug Enforcement Agency, testified at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on February 2, 2012 that suspected terrorists have now formed alliances with Mexican drug lords, which allows them to “operate freely in our neighborhood.” Braun asserted, “I don’t want to sound too crude, but I think there’s going to be hell to pay in the not too distant future.”
On May 21, 2013, Rebecca Gambler, director of the Homeland Security and Justice for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), gave testimony before the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security and revealed that DHS identified 1,901 illegal overstays “of concern” in 2011. As of March 2013, 266 remain missing. The 1,901 cases were made a top priority for further investigation by DHS “because the subjects of the records could pose national security or public safety concerns.” Emphasis clearly mine.
Former National Intelligence Director Mike MConnell, in an interview with the El Paso Times, noted, “Are terrorists coming across the Southwest border? Not in great numbers [but] there are some. …” Later, he goes on to admit, “There were a significant number of Iraqis who came across last year. Smuggled across illegally … It’s significant numbers.”
In fact, thousands of illegals have been caught crossing the borders who are classified as “OTMs” (Other Than Mexicans). Records from a detention center near Phoenix show illegal aliens from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen are in custody. And the trend line of illegals coming from those countries is worrisome. According to the Customs and Border Protection’s Immigration Yearbook 2011:
These are not political refugees or those seeking green cards — they are illegal aliens who deliberately chart an expensive and secret course to the U.S. via our spongy border with Mexico.
Of course none of these statistics or even expert opinions mean we are under imminent attack from crazed jihadists. The vast majority of these Middle Easterners, like their Mexican counterparts, are crossing the border to find a better and safer life — quickly and without trace — and they know the U.S.-Mexican border is an easy route. But there should be more concern, more action, simply because some specific instances are unsettling.
For example, in 2010, federal prosecutors in San Antonio issued an indictment against a Somali human smuggler that was unusual in its detail. The government’s case divulged that the smuggler, Ahmed Mohammad Dhakane, was a member of Al-Ittihad Al-Islami (AIAI) and the money laundering front Al-Barakhat — both of which are affiliated with the Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab. Not only had Dhakane illegally entered the U.S. through Mexico, but prosecutors filed documents alleging that Dhakane smuggled at least several other AIAI operatives as well.
Then there is Abdallah Nafisi, who called on his comrades to bring weapons of mass destruction to America, specifically referring to the pedestrian entry tunnel at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. A Washington Times article (“Al Qaeda eyes bio attack from Mexico”), describes Nasfi’s recruiting video, posted on the internet in 2009, as carrying this message: “Four pounds of anthrax — in a suitcase this big — carried by a fighter through tunnels from Mexico into the U.S. are guaranteed to kill 330,000 Americans within a single hour if it is properly spread in population centers there. What a horrifying idea; 9/11 will be small change in comparison …There is no need for airplanes, conspiracies, timings and so on.” In 2001, Mahmoud Kourani (the brother of Hezbollah’s security chief in southern Lebanon) came through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in the trunk of a car, after bribing a Mexican embassy official in Beirut to get a visa.
And more. In December 2002, Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, a café owner in Tijuana, Mexico, was arrested for illegally smuggling more than two hundred Lebanese into the United States, including several believed to have ties to Hezbollah. In 2010, Muhammad Nazmul Hasan and Mirza Muhammad Saifuddin, were intercepted near Naco, Arizona, not long after they had crossed the border. During their interrogation, one of the men admitted that they were members of Harakat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami-Bangladesh, which was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in February 2008.
Bottom line? There’s no sure-bet solution, but let’s start by sealing off the border — it’s the promise of many politicians, but their delivery has gone from bad to worse. The Department of Homeland Security spends $4 billion annually deploying over 58,000 personnel with 16,875 vehicles, 269 aircraft, 300 watercraft, and 300 camera towers. It even uses aerial drones to enhance the scrutiny. In 2012, the Border Patrol apprehended about 357,000 people — a 78 percent drop since 2000. A February, 2013 GAO report found that just 44 percent of the border was under “operational control,” 37 percent was “monitored,” and the rest “low-level monitored.” In 2006, Congress passed a bill that called for a double-tier fence to be built along 700 miles of the border. But a year later, the U.S. Senate slipped language into a spending bill to water down that requirement, giving Homeland Security officials the leeway to determine how much and what type of fencing. As of early this year, the department had built just 36 miles of two-tier fencing, 316 miles of single-tier fence, and another 299 miles of vehicle barriers that still allow pedestrians to cross, but is meant to keep out smuggling vehicles. Commentator Charles Krauthammer explains the issue this way: “It’s not complicated. Build the damn fence.”
Even before the fence posts are driven into the ground, let’s put a sense of urgency into that job by further investigating the threat that the porous border poses to national security.
Peter B. Gemma is an award-winning writer who has been published in a variety of venues including USA Today (where more than 100 of his commentaries have appeared), Military History, the DailyCaller.com, The Washington Examiner, the EconomicPopulist.org, and Congressman Ron Paul’s CampaignForLiberty.org