Have Terrorists Crossed Our Southern Border?

By Dan Cadman on October 13, 2014

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) made news recently with his claim that ISIS militants have been caught crossing the southern border into the United States. It was a startling assertion, but not one to be lightly dismissed given the recent evidence in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and elsewhere, that the border is not nearly as secure as administration officials would like us to believe.

At least one Texas lawman gives credence to Rep. Hunter's statement. Midland County, Texas, Sheriff Gary Painter, pointing to a porous, "open" border says physical evidence at known crossing areas suggests that Muslims have been crossing illegally and that "there was some activity for the sheriffs along the border to be on alert."

It is significant that the federal government felt the need to respond to Hunter's allegation. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, in a televised interview, stated that there was no "credible, specific intelligence to that effect." Note the very careful phrasing of the statement, and the secretary's use of the qualifiers "credible" and "specific". I suspect that I am not alone in becoming a bit edgy when public figures hedge their bets with "weasel words" in case all hell breaks loose.

After all, it has not gone unnoticed that the federal government seems to have been blind to the rise of ISIS until it had captured a swath of territory and declared itself a "caliphate." Nor did it go unnoticed when, in a CBS News interview, the president dumped the mess in the lap of James Clapper, his director of intelligence, rather than take any personal responsibility as leader of the free world and commander in chief. It was so obvious, in fact, that even "Saturday Night Live", that bastion of liberal thought, mocked the president for throwing Clapper under the bus.

But the question still remains: Is it within the realm of reasonable possibility that extremists have used our southern border as a gateway to the interior, as so many hundreds of thousands of individuals have done? I think there's cause for concern, and here's why:

In the course of reviewing 11 years' worth of removals data provided by ICE as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a journalist, I noticed something that is both interesting and disturbing: I detected certain clusters of aliens born in what used to be called "special interest countries" who were apprehended crossing the southern border into the United States, but who had obtained citizenship from Mexico and certain Central and South American countries.

Let us take just one country by way of example — Afghanistan. I chose it as my example for a couple of reasons. The first is that they are by far the most numerous among the special interest aliens who have changed nationalities. The second is that Afghanistan is so treacherous, so deadly that even allegedly vetted soldiers and police routinely attack and kill U.S. and allied troops in so-called "green on blue" attacks. According to The Long War Journal, such attacks represented 15 percent of attacks on coalition forces in 2013. It is clear that Afghani extremists are particularly effective at infiltration, if such attacks are any gauge — and they should be.

In federal fiscal year 2013 alone, I identified the following aliens who are Afghans by birth, but who were nine other nationalities (presumably by naturalization) at the time they were caught attempting to cross the border illegally.

Note that this list is only composed of illegal border crossers: individuals whose entries were through other methods (nonimmigrants with visas, refugees, asylees, immigrants, etc.) were eliminated from consideration.

  • Colombia: 1
  • Costa Rica: 1
  • El Salvador: 2
  • Guatemala: 8
  • Honduras: 10
  • Ireland: 1
  • Mexico: 268
  • Nicaragua: 1
  • Pakistan: 1

It is also important to understand that the cases I am referring to are separate and apart from another pattern that involves aliens born in special interest countries, but who have naturalized and become citizens of a number of western and northern European nations. Many, perhaps most, of those aliens have entered by means of the visa waiver program, which is available to nationals of those countries. These entrants represent a risk because we do not know whether they truly value their adopted country of citizenship or are extremists who simply see it as a tool because of the relative freedom of travel that it brings. But at least this group entered through a port of entry and government inspectors documented their entry and, even more importantly, have obtained biometric indicators of who they are — fingerprints, photographs, and the like.

This is not true with illegal border crossers, who therefore represent a different and substantial kind of risk. If they are not apprehended, there is no record of their existence in this country unless or until something, possibly tragic, happens. Keep in mind that the data I've provided represent only those individuals who got caught. And no matter what the administration would have us believe, many rank-and-file border patrol agents would tell you (if they could do so without risk of being disciplined) that they doubt if they catch even half of the persons who attempt to cross into the United States on the southern border.

Can I assert that these illegal border crossers were/are Islamist in thinking, or bent on violence? I cannot. But traditional methods of examining border apprehensions look heavily at the nationality of aliens in assessing trends and conducting risk analysis. When an Afghan-by-birth / Mexican-by-naturalization is examined statistically, he simply shows up as "Mexican" along with the tens of thousands of other Mexicans caught trying to enter the United States. There is some likelihood that such persons will not stand out as a metric, and therefore the risk they pose will either be minimized or perhaps even overlooked.

We also have to ask: how sure can we be that these individuals didn't use corruption to obtain their Mexican or Central American passports? Corruption is certainly endemic throughout the region. For instance, in February of this year, Honduras suspended eight out of the 10 consuls assigned to the United States for issuing documents in exchange for bribes.

Another question: Why would individuals seek nationality in countries plagued by poverty and violence if that's what they seek to escape? One answer might be that they wish to gain proximity to the U.S. border while masking their origins.

Masking origins, intent, and even one's existence are all ways in which terrorist cells operate.