When authorities earlier this year discovered a 2,400-foot tunnel connecting a warehouse in Tijuana, Mexico, with another in the United States, Rep. Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the subcommittee on international terrorism, went to take a firsthand look.
He marveled at the "capital investment" made by its creators and pondered the security threat they might pose beyond trafficking in contraband like illicit drugs.
I asked Royce this week if he believes there is a risk that the sort of smugglers who built the tunnel could be exploited by al Qaeda to gain entry into the United States. "Absolutely," he said.
"We are playing with fire unless we move with the resources we have at our disposal to close down illegal immigration and to close down this measure of criminal activity at our border," said Royce. "We have not done it post-9/11, and this is threatening to our national security."
To bolster his analysis, Royce points to testimony given last year in the Senate Intelligence Committee by retired Coast Guard Admiral James Loy, who was then deputy secretary of Homeland Security. "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," Loy testified.
When I asked Royce if he believes Loy's testimony is credible, he said, "That's correct, and we also have heard that al Qaeda agents have themselves discussed coming into the country illegally to carry out operations in the United States."
Royce does not believe the Senate immigration bill is a proportionate response to this threat. In fact, he is convinced it will make things worse. "It is a response that makes it easier to carry out an attack," he said. "It's a response that ties the hands of law enforcement in ways they were not tied before."
Royce cited specific security defects in the bill, including Section 117, which requires every level of government in the United States to consult with every level of government in Mexico before any fencing or other structures can be built on the U.S. side of the border. "Federal, state, and local representatives in the United States shall consult with their counterparts in Mexico concerning the construction of additional fencing and related border security structures along the international border between the United States and Mexico before the commencement of any such construction," it says.
"This, to us, represents a key issue of sovereignty," said Royce. "Who does control the U.S. borders? Is it the government of the United States, or do our neighbors control it?"