More non-Mexicans are crossing border
Illegal immigrants from nations the U.S. considers hotbeds of
terrorism enter regularly, despite increased enforcement.
U.S. agents along the southwestern border increasingly catch
illegal immigrants from throughout the world – not just from Mexico
– as they try to slip into the country.
Some come from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries U.S.
officials regard as hotbeds of terrorism. Many more may enter
New data obtained by The Denver Post show that Border Patrol agents
over the past five months caught 46,058 non-Mexican migrants along
the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, up 12 percent from the 40,953 caught
during the same period last year.
Annual apprehensions have increased fivefold since 2002, with
155,000 non-Mexican migrants caught last year, according to
government data from congressional and other sources.
The widening flood of illegal immigration raises security concerns
as Congress debates how to fix an immigration system all sides see
Agents “haven’t encountered a terrorist crossing the southwest
border at this point. But we’re concerned about the possibility,”
said Dean Boyd, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs
There’s no way to know how many illegal immigrants enter
undetected. The latest estimates based on census surveys show
850,000 people a year enter illegally, more than double the influx
in the early 1990s – despite a decade of beefing up border
Easy path for terrorists
In Denver, growing numbers of undocumented asylum-seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia and elsewhere tell social workers of harrowing passages through multiple countries before sneaking in from Mexico.
They sometimes “get lost in the mix” of unauthorized job-seekers, said Regina Germain, legal director at the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center in Denver.
Having a system that can help asylum-seekers, as well as ensure
security, is an imperative “that goes back to our very roots,”
Germain said. “The people who founded our country were fleeing
On the security front, the United States remains vulnerable,
despite post-Sept. 11, 2001, efforts, and terrorists easily could
infiltrate, said T.J. Bonner, president of the union that
represents Border Patrol agents.
The data show “just the ones we catch; a lot of people get by
us,” Bonner said, estimating that border guards catch 25 percent
to 33 percent of illegal border-crossers. “The borders remain out of control.” Congress is debating proposals such as deploying hundreds more border guards and using more motion detectors, surveillance cameras and aerial
drones, along with allowing more legal foreign workers and possibly
granting amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants already here.
But the government already has been increasing the number of Border
Patrol agents steadily from 4,000 in 1993 to 11,300 today, and the
agency’s budget more than tripled from about $380 million to $1.4
Bonner and others contend that further intensifying border
enforcement is futile unless the government also cracks down on
employers who hire illegal immigrants.
“Take away the reason most people are coming in the first place,”
Former government demographer Jeff Passell, now with the Pew
Hispanic Center, says surging non-Mexican illegal immigration “is
a phenomenon we haven’t figured out a way to stop, or even to
“There’s every indication these people are coming here to work. …
And we haven’t put in place anything to deal with the jobs magnet
which is attracting people,” he said. “The flattening world makes
it easier for people to get close to the United States. People who
might have come on tourist visas in the past now may be getting to
Mexico and Canada.”
Caught, then let go
Non-Mexican migrants caught entering the United States illegally in
fiscal years 2002 to 2005 came mostly from Central America and
Brazil. Also among them were: Iranians (95), Iraqis (74),
Pakistanis (660), Syrians (52), Yemenis (40), Egyptians (106) and
Those figures cover all ports of entry. Along the southwestern
border, non-Mexican migrants caught from 2002 to 2004 – the latest
years for which data could be obtained – included Pakistanis (113),
Egyptians (41), Jordanians (55), Iranians (39), Iraqis (22),
Yemenis (15) and Saudis (13).
They are from among 35 “special-interest” nations the State Department lists as hotbeds for terrorism. U.S. officials increasingly restrict visas for
travelers from these nations.
Even when non-Mexican migrants are caught, some are released into
the United States with notices to appear in immigration court for
lack of jail bed space. Homeland Security Secretary Michael
Chertoff has vowed to end that practice on the southwestern border
this year. Immigration authorities are trying to deport non-Mexican
migrants more quickly. Mexico refuses to take them back, and U.S.
agents must fly them home if their countries will accept them.
The concern experts raise is that beefed-up border patrols now
force determined migrants to rely on increasingly sophisticated
global smuggling networks to get them through undetected. This
business is booming, with networks proliferating, drawing in
drug-crime cartels and transnational gangs.
Violence is up – attacks on Border Patrol agents topped 700 last
year – further encouraging reliance on smugglers. A recent FBI
intelligence bulletin warned that one smuggling kingpin “has
instructed his employees to shoot at” U.S. border agents. All this
favors terrorists who easily could use smuggling networks to enter,
said Walter Ewing, a researcher at the Immigration Policy
“The best way to enhance security would be to take labor migration
out of the equation. If we were channeling workers from abroad
through legal channels, border-control resources could be channeled
towards catching potential terrorists as opposed to just tracking
down job-seekers,” Ewing said.
If Congress could reduce the number of illegal job-seekers, he
said, “terrorists would find it more difficult to hide among the
masses of undocumented aliens.”
“And they wouldn’t be able to rely on such good smuggling networks
because the market for those networks would be undercut,” Ewing
said. Congressional leaders in the past have considered proposals
to introduce fraud-proof IDs and hold employers responsible for
screening out illegal workers.
“It’s hard to talk about closing down the border when, by and
large, immigrants who come to this country are working. And who are
they working for? Small firms. Large firms. It’s pretty
pervasive,” said Audrey Singer, immigration specialist at the
Illegal immigrants occupy nearly 5 percent of U.S. jobs, Passell,
of the Pew Hispanic Center, found in a new study.
And removing the jobs magnet means “you have to give employers the
tools, and then you have to hold them accountable,” he said.
“That means finding employers, prosecuting employers, and possibly
putting some out of business.
“That’s just not politically popular. It’s the work that is
drawing people here. If you don’t deal with that, it’s hard to
think how you can control” illegal immigration.
Homeland Security teams have developed “a world-class
identification card” that could help employers verify whether
workers are here legally, said Emilio Gonzalez, Homeland Security’s
chief of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Today, “everyone can come up with 10 or 15 pieces of
identification to prove they are legal. But quite frankly,
employers have no idea what they are looking for,” Gonzalez said.