What could go wrong with a raucous group of predominantly males from the most violent Latin American countries headed for our southern border? Well, drugs, gangs, crime, and a fiscal drain on our economic resources are a few reasons to fear this invasion. But there is also an extra national security concern that Middle Easterners, who are already traveling independently to our border, are mixed in with this caravan. It’s a general concern that we should take very seriously both with the caravan and the broader waves of illegal immigration.
Yesterday, Trump tweeted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the caravan. Clearly, Trump has been getting briefings on this issue and is paying attention.
During the waning months of the Obama administration, none other than former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent out a memo to law enforcement agencies with the subject line, “Cross-Border Movement of Special Interest Aliens.” According to DHS’ official definition, Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) are individuals from 35 countries that “have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations,” aka countries from the Middle East or those in Africa and Asia with a presence of terrorist networks. The Johnson memo called for the creation of a “multi-DHS Component SIA Joint Action Group” designed to “counter the threats posed by the smuggling of SIAs” and “the increased global movement of SIAs” in order to eventually “bring down organizations involved in the smuggling of SIAs into and within the United States.” As Todd Bensman of the Center for Immigration Studies observed, the memo was “unusual in the sense that they demanded the ‘immediate attention’ of the nation’s most senior immigration and border security leaders to counter such an obscure terrorism threat.” Bensman is a former intelligence officer for Texas Department of Public Safety.
Of course, this plan never came to fruition, but the fact that someone as liberal as Jeh Johnson found a need to warn about “the increased global involvement of SIAs” should be very concerning to all of us.
Reporters who don’t bother to study issues in the long term and merely react to the mindless soap opera of the day are acting shocked at Trump’s concern about the Middle East migrants coming through the border. CNN’s Jake Tapper wants Trump to provide him with proof of such a phenomenon. To anyone who has studied Latin America, this is a long-standing concern that is always present, irrespective of whether we have a smoking gun in every particular caravan. It certainly ranks among the top reasons to deter these incursions. There is a trail of both governments and Arab diaspora communities in numerous South and Central American countries that are facilitating this smuggling network.
Here’s the current reality:
Perhaps reporters like Tapper ought to speak with people who are actually involved in Latin American affairs. Joseph Humire, who served as an expert witness in a first-of-its-kind anti-Hezbollah trial in Peru, told me that he’d be surprised if Middle Easterners aren’t coming in with the caravan simply because they are already traveling these same routes on their own. “The #CaravanHonduras has exposed an important yet underreported issue — the presence and activity of radical Islamist terrorist movements in Central and South America,” said Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society. “The movement of irregular migrants cannot be separated from the increase in SIAs in recent years, especially as we correlate the routes and chokepoints used by the Caravan in Guatemala and Mexico. The Aguas Calientes (Guate-Honduras) to Tecun Uman (Guate-Mexico) border crossings are a known SIA route used in the past, as recently as this past April-June when unidentified Palestinians with suspected terror ties took this same route.”
Indeed, these are the routes being taken by the current caravan. Keep in mind that the caravan is working through the Chiapas district of Mexico right near cities like San Cristobal that have populations of recent Muslim converts, a growing phenomenon in the region. None other than open-borders advocate and former Mexican President Vincente Fox accused some of them of having ties to al Qaeda. There are very strong reasons to be concerned with the caravan traveling a known SIA route and passing by such a community.
Humire’s sources in the Morales government also tell him that “at least 44 Syrians have been detained in Guatemala since 2016, all with forged or irregular documents and one with possible ties to ISIS.” Also, many other SIAs “have been moving through Guatemala with fraudulent documents from other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia,” whom “local authorities believe are connected to Hezbollah.”
What about from this caravan? Humire sent me reports he’s received from Guatemalan law enforcement that Guatemala apprehended 100 individuals who were not from Honduras over the past 72 hours. On Friday, Guatemalan police claim to have apprehended seven Bangladeshis, two individuals from Sri Lanka, and one from Nepal. They are being processed for deportation. On Monday, they caught 11 Cubans and three more from Bangladesh. There have also been individuals from Angola, Congo, and Cameroon apprehended by local authorities.
Yesterday, the Daily Caller reported that a Univision reporter on the ground has confirmed the presence of Bangladeshis and that they were apprehended by Guatemalan authorities.
Could the Morales regime and his officials be exaggerating? Perhaps, but I think we ought to take Guatemalans seriously when they are warning of Middle Easterners traveling through the human smuggling routes headed north. Morales has every reason to cooperate with us now that Trump is threatening to suspend foreign aid.
Broadly speaking, it’s shocking how ignorant the elite media is about the growing threat of terrorism in Latin America at both the state level and the grassroots level. Not everything revolves around the Middle East, believe it or not.
Perhaps Tapper and his ilk should heed the words of Michael Braun, former chief of operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Braun sent Conservative Review the following statement regarding the president’s concern over Middle Easterners traveling along the Latin American migrant routes:
The President is justifiably concerned about Middle Eastern terrorist organizations exploiting our borders. Hezbollah and Iran’s IRGC Quds Force, which is responsible for clandestine foreign operations, to include assassinations, have significantly increased their footprint throughout Latin America and Mexico over the past decade … Hezbollah’s growing involvement in the global cocaine trade over the past decade has resulted in the formation of alliances with Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking cartels, the most sophisticated transnational organized crime syndicates law enforcement has ever faced.
Braun was responsible for oversight of all of the DEA’s foreign offices during the Bush years and has testified before Congress many times on the confluence of drug trafficking and terror networks, illicit finance, and other national security topics.
It’s important to remember that although the caravan is a big concern, there are hundreds of thousands of others crossing our border every year, quietly smuggled in by the cartels. This must be stopped as well. Thanks to our judicial amnesty, DHS incompetence, and congressional ineptitude, we have family units coming in record numbers. The Arizona Sherriff’s Association warned in a letter last week that Border Patrol “is currently using up to 40% of their available staff to monitor family units.” Congress and the courts have turned them into babysitters while MS-13, drugs, and yes, Middle Easterners, are crossing the border.
Typically the interdiction rate at the border is about 50 percent, but you have to imagine, given that the SIAs pay up to $30,000 for successful smuggling, that the border cartels, which control the entirety of the flow of movement across the border, are orchestrating the family unit crossings in a way that will ensure more of the high-value targets successfully cross un-interdicted. “The coyote is interested in one thing only — collecting his money and moving his illicit customers across that border as quickly as possible,” warned Braun. “Anyone believing for a moment that foreign terrorist organizations like Hezbollah don’t exploit situations like this simply don’t understand how the real underworld operates.”
As a man who combated human and drug trafficking in South and Central American jungles for decades, Braun would know how this world works.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.