Enemy at the Gates?

Are terrorists passing through the U.S.-Mexico border?

Enemy at the Gates?
Photo by Roberto Di Giovine (The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement)

In separate incidents, U.S. border agents recently arrested two Yemeni men who were on a terror watch list after they had illegally crossed into America from Mexico. The cases represent the third and fourth arrests of terror suspects illegally crossing the border since October.

Both unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the announcement drew partisan politicization from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Democrats denied that the story was of any significance while Republicans cast ire at perceived failures in President Biden’s weakening of migration laws.

Regardless of partisan rancor, security professionals remain of mixed opinion concerning the long-term threat posed by terrorists crossing the border illegally, and the incidents have sparked further debate about just how vulnerable the porous southern border is to exploitation by bad-faith actors.

The potential for danger to cross over into America from the south, though real, is nothing new.

Indeed, alarm over Islamist extremists taking advantage of lax border security goes back twenty years. At that time, during beginning of the Global War on Terror, dense Muslim enclaves in Canada were considered to be a greater threat than migrants crossing from Mexico.

Numerous deadly attacks in Europe carried out by migrants who disguised themselves as refugees, however, contributed to a fear of similar attacks in America.

How real a threat that is remains to be demonstrated, and the current administration is as tight-lipped about the reality of the situation as the previous one was.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed fears about the recent apprehensions as unwarranted, and said that such incidents were “very uncommon.”

As it turns out, “very uncommon,” is a relative term.

It is certainly true that such incidents are uncommon when compared to the massive influx of migrants drawn by President Biden’s campaign vow to suspend all deportations and vastly lower security checks for migrants seeking entry into the country.

There were over 172,000 encounters with migrants attempting to cross the southern border in March of this year alone, up from about 103,000 in March 2019 and 50,000 in March 2018.

Relatively “very uncommon” when compared to those numbers, though, means something closer to “much more common than most Americans would expect.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, between 3–4,000 suspected or known terrorists are stopped or apprehended entering the United States each year.

That number is problematic, however, as no administration to date has publicly listed how many of those stopped or apprehended are known terrorists (as opposed to suspected terrorists) or specifically how many of them have attempted to enter the nation via land routes (as opposed to air or maritime routes). Moreover, the government has not released data detailing how many of those stopped or apprehended were caught while crossing illegally versus legally.

This lack of transparency by four consecutive presidential administrations not only hinders Americans’ ability to accurately gauge the threat to the nation, but also creates a general trend of opaqueness that allows for increased partisanship to dictate border policy rather than good data.

It is known that between 2001 and 2016, approximately 73 percent of all convicted terrorists in the United States were foreign born, and of that number some 63 percent were never naturalized. But it remains unknown how they got here and whether they were radicalized before or after their arrival.

The problem of criminality and terrorism entering the nation is real, but its shape and extent is muddied and rendered essentially unknowable by an increasing shadow state that classifies nearly 53 million documents every year, including those necessary to comprehend who is trying to enter the country and how.

For now, those Americans wishing to know just how real the terrorist threat is will have to rely on the partisan drivel of two parties equally unwilling to make the relevant data known.


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