On January 19, 2018, a citizen of Afghanistan and former interpreter for the U.S. military named Wasiq Ullah crossed the Texas border from Mexico. He had spent $16,000 to be smuggled through several countries — most likely to South America or Cuba and then overland north through Central America — into Mexico.
Small numbers of Afghans have been journeying to the southern border for years on those well-established routes. When Ullah finally crossed into Brownsville, he claimed asylum just like most Afghan immigrants who illegally cross, saying he feared persecution because of his past work for the U.S. Army.
But what American homeland security agencies discovered next about Ullah stands as a cautionary tale about the continued efficacy of an almost unknown American counterterrorism enterprise that was deployed at the southern border because of the September 11 attacks: to detect and block jihadist immigrants from crossing incognito, for whatever purpose.