“Extra-Continental” Migration

U.S. lags Mexico in addressing this misunderstood next threat

By Todd Bensman on January 29, 2020

The term "Extra-Continental", on its own, implies a relatively value-free definition: from beyond, or from outside the continent. But used in the parlance of government homeland security these days, the term is loaded with meaning — and warning — about a surging form of illegal immigration the United Stated neither understands nor manages well.

At a December CIS "Newsmaker Series" interview, Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan benchmarked a good starting point: recognition. He identified, as an "increased issue", surges in extra-continental migration of U.S.-bound peoples from non-Spanish-speaking populations around the globe, to include the Muslim-majority nations of terrorism concern in the Middle East and South Asia. Morgan said this was a threat that "we need to get out in front of" in 2020.

How getting in front of this illegal immigration threat unfolds, exactly, has yet to become very clear. But to make policy designed to control any complex illegal immigration form, full comprehension is necessary. This CIS video report strives to contribute to such comprehension as the U.S. government moves forward. It comes from the Mexico-Guatemala border, America's "other southern border", namesake of this field reporting series, and one of the most important transit points where Mexican authorities seem to be effectively interdicting and deterring extra-continental migration at the moment.

What is happening in southern Mexico presents a rare example that can be somewhat observed, studied, and simply noticed for opportunities to build any U.S. response.

The video should be taken together with extensive CIS reporting on extra-continental migration published in late 2018 and early 2019 from the other key border transit point of Panama, in a field reporting series titled "CIS Investigates Terror Travel Threat in Panama and Costa Rica".

As I reported in July, a surge of extra-continental migrants — tens of thousands of Haitians, Africans, and Middle Easterners — was coming through Colombia and Panama's Darien Gap toward Mexico and then the U.S. southern border. They were emboldened by the mass-success of Central Americans who smashed American border control systems starting in late 2018 and calculated that anyone else could take advantage, too.

A surprising finding: The United States so far seems to be lagging Mexico in responding to this unique national security threat.