The uproar over Arizona's new immigration law leaves the impression that all immigrants illegally entering the state are Mexicans. But according to a 2006 report from the House Committee on Homeland Security, an increasing number of illegal immigrants from nations known to produce, train and harbor Islamic terrorists are using the Southwest border as a gateway to the United States.
While the Committee's report, A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border, focuses on "criminal activity and violence taking place along the Southwest border of the United States between Texas and Mexico," it also brings to light the increasing frequency with which "Other than Mexican" (OTM) persons from 35 "special interest" countries known by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to harbor Islamic terrorists are illegally entering the United States.
"Based on U.S. Border Patrol statistics there were 30,147 OTMs apprehended in FY2003, 44,614 in FY2004, 165,178 in FY2005, and 108,025 in FY2006. Most of them were apprehended along the U.S. Southwest border."Where Do the OTMs Enter the United States?
"The sheer increase of OTMs coming across the border makes it more difficult for Border Patrol agents to readily identify and process each, thereby increasing the chances that a potential terrorist could slip through the system. Moreover, there is no concrete mechanism for determining how many OTMs evade apprehensions and successfully enter the country illegally."
While most illegal immigrants of all nationalities are apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol in the Tucson sector of Arizona, the vast majority of OTM and "Special Interest Alien" apprehensions take place along the Texas border - specifically in the McAllen sector. "Since September 11, 2001, DHS has reported a 41percent increase in arrests along the Texas/Mexico border of Special Interest Aliens," states the report. "From FY2001 to March 2005, 88 percent of Special Interest Alien apprehensions for both the Southwest and Northern borders occurred in Texas."
Where Do The OTMs Come From?
According to the report, "hundreds" of OTM illegal aliens from special interest countries from countries including Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Cuba, Brazil, Ecuador, China, Russia, Yemen, Albania, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan have been apprehended in the South Texas region alone since September 11, 2001.
"Just recently, U.S. intelligence officials report that seven Iraqis were found in Brownsville, Texas in June 2006. In August 2006, an Afghani man was found swimming across the Rio Grande River in Hidalgo, Texas; as recently as October 2006, seven Chinese were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas."Evidence of Terrorist Ties
Far from basing their ties to terrorism on the OTMs' nation of origin alone, Border Patrol agents have, in many cases, found frightening physical evidence, according to the Committee's report.
"A jacket with patches from countries where al Qa'ida is known to operate was found in Jim Hogg County, Texas by the Border Patrol. The patches on the jacket show an Arabic military badge with one depicting an airplane flying over a building and heading towards a tower, and another showing an image of a lion's head with wings and a parachute emanating from the animal. The bottom of one patch read 'martyr,' 'way to eternal life' or 'way to immortality.'"Confirmed Terrorists Apprehended
A few of the apprehended OTM illegal immigrants with confirmed ties to terrorist groups listed in the congressional report include:
Neeran Zaia - arrested on September 8, 2004 - headed an organization responsible for smuggling more than 200 Iraqi, Jordanian, and Syrian nationals into the United States. When he was arrested, U.S. Customs agents discovered that Zaia had a prior conviction for human smuggling.The Problem of Getting OTMs Out of the US
Mahmoud Youssef Kourani -- pleaded guilty on March 1, 2005 to providing material support to Hezbollah. "Kourani is an illegal alien who had been smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border after bribing a Mexican consular official in Beirut for a visa to travel to Mexico."
Salim Boughader Mucharrafille - was arrested in December 2002 for illegally smuggling more than two hundred Lebanese, many believed to have ties to Hezbollah into the United States.
Prior to the Secure Border Initiative, the Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had a real problem getting Other Than Mexican illegal immigrants out of the United States. Even though most OTMs enter the U.S. from Mexico, Mexico will not accept them. Instead, they may only be sent to their native country, or any third country that will accept them.
According to the 2005 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Border Security: Apprehensions of "Other Than Mexican" Aliens, the DRO lacks adequate bedding space to house every OTM apprehended by ICE. "As a result of this," states the CRS report, "the majority of OTMs apprehended by the USBP are released into the interior of the United States with notices to appear before an immigration judge. Most of these released OTMs fail to show up for their hearings and are not ultimately removed."
Since going in to effect in November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Border Initiative (SBI) has employed an expedited removal process that enables ICE to remove OTM aliens to their home countries in from 15 to 30 days.
When the Secure Border Initiative was first initiated, ICE inherited close to 4,000 OTM aliens awaiting removal from the United States. According to ICE, close to 3,000 of those OTMs have been removed from the country so far.