August 24, 2005, 8:16 a.m.
We have a special interest in who is coming into our country illegally.
Two Democratic governors, New Mexico's Bill Richardson and Arizona's Janet Napolitano, have sounded the klaxons over the bedlam on America's border with Mexico. On August 12, Richardson (who happens to be of Mexican ancestry) declared a state of emergency in four of his state's border counties. Three days later, Napolitano followed, placing four of Arizona's frontier counties in emergency status.
Beyond the usual complaints about illegal aliens straining public services, Richardson cited "kidnapping, murder, destruction of property, and the death of livestock" among the rationales for his crisis proclamation; Napolitano denounced "violent gangs, coyotes, and other dangerous criminals."
While those reasons are disturbing enough, Americans should worry even more about the growing numbers of foreigners breaking into the U.S. from nations awash in Islamic extremism.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R., Colo.) points to Border Patrol documents that show how America's southern and northern borders routinely are traversed by predominantly Muslim Middle Easterners and North Africans.
Between October 1, 2002, and June 30, 2003, Department of Homeland Security figures show 4,226 Special Interest Aliens were apprehended on America's Mexican and Canadian borders.
By June 30, 2004, that number had swelled 42.5 percent to 6,022 SIAs from "Countries of Interest" such as those the State Department considers sponsors of terrorism (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria) and others where militant Islam simmers (Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen).
Full fiscal-year 2004 data record the capture of 7 Saudis, 10 Syrians, 18 Lebanese, 19 Iranians, 25 Egyptians, 28 Jordanians, and 164 Pakistanis, among others. If these figures seem small, recall the havoc 19 Middle Easterners unleashed on September 11.
"One must take into account that even the most conservative estimates of the number of folks getting by the Border Patrol are two or three times the number caught," Tancredo said. If so, at least 18,000 SIAs entered America just in the first nine months of 2004.
Perhaps these illegal aliens come here for what most immigrants want: freedom, prosperity, and better lives. But some who violate our borders do so to destroy those things.
"Recent information from ongoing investigations, detentions, and emerging-threat streams strongly suggests that al-Qaeda has considered using the southwest border to infiltrate the United States," former Homeland Security deputy secretary James Loy told the Senate Intelligence Committee last February. "Several al Qaeda leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the country through Mexico and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons."
Mahmoud Youssef Kourani paid a smuggler to be whisked across the U.S./Mexican frontier in 2001, FBI director Robert Mueller told a February 16 Senate hearing. Kourani was sentenced in June to 4.5 years in prison for raising $40,000 for Hezbollah.
The September 11 Commission identified Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, a Tijuana café owner, as a "human smuggler with suspected links to terrorists." Until his December 2002 arrest, he snuck some 200 fellow Lebanese, including Hezbollah sympathizers, into the U.S. The Associated Press found him in a Mexico City prison last month.
Last April, the June 30 Washington Times explained, Mexican officials detained four Iraqis at the airport in Mexicali, a border town. They had flown there from Mexico City, but were stopped when they were discovered traveling on bogus Dutch passports.
A phony Canadian passport accompanied Syrian Nabil al-Marabh as he took an illegal tractor-trailer ride from Canada into New York in June 2001. Linked to al Qaeda, he since has been deported.
Despite these high-profile jailings and expulsions, many captured SIAs walk away, thanks to the so-called "catch and release" policy. Since 9/11, some 118,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants have been apprehended then unhanded due to a lack of detention facilities. Many of these are young, Middle Eastern men. Immigration officers give these aliens a document ordering them to return for court dates. They nickname this form the "notice to disappear."
While it is fair to say that most illegal Middle Easterners mean Americans no harm, it also is fair to say that, even if they do not enter the U.S. to practice terrorism, foreign-born Muslims are more susceptible than others to being radicalized and recruited into militant Islam.
Americans on the border are duly concerned. A member of the private American Border Patrol last year carried a fake suitcase bomb — complete with a large radiation symbol painted on its side — from inside Mexico, across the Arizona border, to within feet of Tucson's federal building.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . .
— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.