ISIS Crossing Southern Border From Mexico? Terror Debate Sparks Alarm Over Possible Islamic State Immigration
Tim Foley recently returned from a 10-day patrol mission through the cactus and bush-covered borderland that stretches between Mexico and the U.S. states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. He’s one of many Americans concerned about a porous border that sits just 400 yards from his home, but also among the few who has taken matters into his own hands.
The 56-year-old former construction worker nicknamed “Nailer” has led the Arizona Border Recon, a group of heavily armed volunteers, on expeditions to intercept undocumented border crossers and stem the flow of drugs coming through the desert for the last five years. His group, which is not sanctioned by the government, has detained hundreds of undocumented immigrants and narco-scouts and reported them to authorities, he said. Increasingly, however, he’s been concerned by the prospect of militants with the Islamic State group exploiting a weak border.
“You’ve got a war on drugs, and a war on terror, and they’re coming together — right here, right now,” said Foley, who calls Arizona home.
Following last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, and more recently since the last week’s San Bernardino, California, massacre, conservative-leaning voters and politicians have raised alarm over the possibility of terrorists slipping into the U.S. illegally. Immigrants from as far away as China have been crossing into the southern tip of Texas for years, but it’s only recently that a small number of Arabs has tapped into an elaborate human-smuggling pipeline. Immigration analysts said it was an unlikely path for terrorists, however, and much more likely to be used by desperate refugees fleeing war in hopes of connecting with family members already in the U.S.
“There are politicians who want to stoke fears about terrorism or are stoking fears about terrorism,” said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. “I don’t want to say it’s a total non-issue, but the Southwest border is not the greatest point of vulnerability in terms of national security.”
The U.S. government has poured billions of dollars into border security amid a years-long nationwide debate over undocumented immigration. Authorities have erected hundreds of miles of fencing, as well as hundreds of radar and camera towers. They’ve also begun using drones to survey the terrain, and there are today more than 21,000 border agents on the ground. Whereas refugees might file asylum claims once apprehended, the possibility of being caught is likely to keep extremists searching for other ways to get in, security analysts said.
The journey across the vast expanse is an arduous and costly one, but hundreds of thousands of people each year attempt to make it. Many are from South or Central America, but the number of Chinese and Indians slipping through has surged in recent years. Smuggling agents in Asia generally charge between $12,000 and $20,000 for the whole journey, and they usually organize clients to first fly to a third-party country, like Ecuador or Venezuela. The roundabout routes are necessary as Mexico requires visas for entrants from many countries. The immigrants then typically take vehicles into Mexico before moving on to the closest border crossing into the U.S.
Mexican crime networks are suspected of being involved in the operations, and immigrants are often coached on what to tell border security on the other side, in the event they are apprehended without prior plans of making an asylum claim.
There’s no telling how many Syrians, Iraqis and other Middle Easterners have tapped into those networks. There were 104 asylum cases filed by Syrians as of June this year, almost double as many as in 2010, but only a fraction of those were individuals who showed up at the border. Fourteen Syrians were apprehended attempting to cross in 2014, the last year
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