Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday warned about the vulnerability of the U.S.-Mexico border to penetration by Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. But her statement was marred by major ambiguity and several factual inaccuracies.
"There is evidence of actual and potential terrorists entering via the Southwest border, principally members of Hamas and Hezbollah," Feinstein said at a session of the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider immigration reform legislation.
That concern is not new. At a hearing last year of the House Committee on Homeland Security, a former official of the Drug Enforcement Administration testified that Mexican drug cartels are in "very close contact" with Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda. He warned of a "nightmare scenario" in which Hezbollah and the Iranian al Quds force "focus on our Southwest border and use that as perhaps a springboard in attacking our country."
On Monday, Feinstein cited the sharp recent increase in the number of Border Patrol arrests of people from countries other than Mexico, who are known as OTMs.
The increase, she said, "indicates that something we have feared, is that people would recognize that it's easier to come in through the Mexican border if you're coming from a Middle Eastern country or Sudan or any of these other places than it is through a major port of entry."
Feinstein offered no statistics of OTMs from the Middle East, Sudan, or any other country. She indicated that she could not disclose classified intelligence information. But her comment appeared to suggest that part of the increase in OTM arrests involved potential terrorists.
Moreover, Feinstein misstated the calendar for the Border Patrol's fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30. Fiscal year 2013, for example, will end this September 30.
But Feinstein reported that the Border Patrol had recorded a total of 59,304 OTM arrests for FY 2013, a 67 percent jump over the 35,528 total of the previous year.
You can see those numbers and other OTM statistics here.
Not only was the senator's calendar too fast, her numbers for recent OTM arrests were too low.
The Border Patrol's reports for the two most recent fiscal years, 2011 and 2012, showed a jump in OTM arrests of more than 100 percent, from 46,997 to 94,532.
The overwhelming majority of those arrests were made near the Texas border, where many news accounts have reported that the vast majority of the OTMs are from Central America, especially Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.