Border security: Drawing "a line in the sand"

Posted: Oct 26, 2006 12:01 AM
Border security: Drawing "a line in the sand"

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) recently declared the debate over securing America's borders extends beyond the issue of illegal immigrants and jobs. "Securing our borders will also stop illegal commercial activities, such as human trafficking and drug and weapons smuggling - the three most lucrative illegal commercial activities in the world. Therefore, it is an important national security matter for us to take the appropriate steps to gain operational control of our borders."

Congress finally started to address this pressing matter of national security shortly before adjourning. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, which calls for the construction of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican Border, represents an important step in that effort. Earlier this month, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which includes funding for more Border Patrol agents, the fence and more equipment and buildings. Representative J. D. Hayworth (R-AZ) expressed satisfaction with the decision of President Bush to sign the Act because " puts in place funding for the first steps, really, of enforcement first."

A recent report by the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Investigations, reinforces the contentions of concerned legislators, such as Senator Chambliss and Representative Hayworth, that securing the Mexican Border is a pressing issue of national security. Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations, expressed concern to HOUSTON CHRONICLE reporter Michelle Mittelstadt that Islamic groups have a presence in Latin America and may seek an alliance with drug cartels and gangs. "The thing that keeps me up at night when I think, what can we do to prevent another 9/11?, is that [the trafficking networks] own these delivery routes," McCaul was quoted in Mittelstadt's October 17, 2006 story, "Border Patrol, Lawmen Outgunned by Cartels."

The Mexican Border is vast, extending nearly 2,000 miles. "A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border" (ALITS) notes that the size of the border is not the only challenge confronting the United States Border Patrol. The terrain is varied, much of it mountainous or desert, enabling savvy smugglers of drugs and humans to take advantage of the vast, sparsely populated territory. The report's findings will come as a shocking read to many Americans who have lapsed into complacency as 9/11 recedes in time. The report was produced after the Subcommittee on Investigations held hearings in Washington and in the Southwest.

The Subcommittee Staff visited with Federal, State and local law enforcement officials and residents to obtain first-hand knowledge. Americans should not only be troubled by the ability of Mexican drug cartels to move their wares across our border; they should be worried we are leaving the door open wide enough for terrorists to enter our country by crossing the Mexican Border.

There are 43 ports of entry which are linked to major U.S. highway systems. ALITS notes that, despite the efforts of our law enforcement officials, Mexican drug cartels are taking advantage of these gateways to move their products and personnel. "The cartels operate along the border with military grade weapons, technology and intelligence and their own respective paramilitary enforcers." The Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center, in its January 2006 report, "National Drug Threat Assessment," warns that the Mexican drug cartels are foreclosing on territory in Florida and New York considered to be the purview of the Colombian and Dominican criminal organizations. ALITS reports:

"To protect and expand their criminal operations, Mexican drug cartels maintain highly developed intelligence networks on both sides of the border and have hired private armies to carry out enforcement measures. For example, the Gulf Cartel leader Cardenas employs a group of former elite military soldiers known as 'Los Zetas.' The Zetas are unique among drug enforcer groups in that they operate as 'a private army under the orders of Cardenas' Gulf Cartel, the first time a drug lord has had his own paramilitary.' The Zetas have been instrumental in the Gulf Cartel's domination of the drug trade in Nuevo Laredo, and have fought to maintain the cartel's influence in that city following the arrest of Cardenas. The Zetas' activities are not limited to defending the Gulf Cartel's terrain in northern Mexico. The paramilitary force is also believed to control trafficking routes along the eastern half of the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Reports indicate that while the Zetas were initially comprised of members of the Mexican military's Special Forces, they now include Federal, State, and local law enforcement personnel as well as civilians. Moreover, according to U.S. intelligence officials, Zetas are recruiting former Guatemalan Special Forces military personnel known as Kaibiles and member of the notorious cross-border gangs known as Maras, including the violent Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13)."

Surprisingly, ALITS states that smuggling humans over our border can be an even more profitable enterprise than trafficking in illegal drugs. Traffickers in humans must pay fees when moving through corridors controlled by drug cartels. The risk of smuggling drugs is greater. Criminals caught attempting to smuggle drugs into our country cannot easily disown the evidence. Illegal aliens caught at our border tend not to identify their escorts. The drug smuggling rings are increasingly working with rings that smuggle humans, coordinating their efforts to confound the Border Patrol.

Gang members from Mexico and Central and South America are crossing the Mexican Border to commit all kinds of mayhem. When Robert S. Mueller III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, presented unclassified testimony on February 16, 2005 before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he noted the Department of Justice estimates there are approximately 30,000 gangs with over 800,000 members in our country. One of the worst is MS-13. NEWSWEEK reported in a March 28, 2005 story that this gang has at least 8,000 members in over 30 States and is viewed to be "the fastest-growing, most violent and least understood of the nation's street gangs." The FBI has formed a National Gang Task Force, the mission of which is to scrutinize the activities of this depraved operation. The gang has been known to visit drugstores to steal cough medicine, used to make other drugs. Such seemingly small acts of petty thievery were yielding an average of $45,000 to $55,000 of stolen merchandise a day in the Midwest. MS-13's thievery is supplemented by assaults, rapes and murders. So-called gang "constitutions" have been seized by the FBI, according to a January 5, 2006 USA TODAY story, "MS-13 Gang Growing Extremely Dangerous, FBI Says." Reporter Kevin Johnson wrote, "The documents, most of them crudely handwritten codes of conduct, listed a range of punishments - from death to severe beatings - for transgressions against the gang."

Smugglers of drugs and humans frequently exhibit no regard for human life. Earlier this year, a Texas sheriff's office discovered 56 illegal immigrants trapped inside a refrigerated trailer. Many were on the verge of freezing to death. Illegal aliens trying to sneak across the border by train are ready victims for assaults and robberies by gang members, common criminals and corrupt Mexican governmental and law-enforcement officials. Webb County, Texas Sheriff Rick Flores, in an August 16, 2006 statement to the Subcommittee on Investigations, cited concern that gangs are equipped with sophisticated weaponry, such as AK-47 assault rifles, sniper scopes, rocket-propelled grenades.

Most disturbing, it is not only Central Americans and Mexicans who are traveling illegally across our Southwest Border. ALITS reports, "Since September 11, 2001 to the present hundreds of illegal aliens from special interest countries (such as Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Cuba, Brazil, Ecuador, China, Russia, Yemen, Albania, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan) were apprehended within the South Texas region alone." Securing our border in the Southwest may soon be more than a matter of stopping unlawful immigrants from taking American jobs; it may be a matter of saving lives by the hundreds or thousands.

Many immigrants are willing to do the paperwork and wait to enter our country legally because they want to prosper playing by the rules. We welcome them. Others are unwilling to come to our country legally. Too many are coming to the United States for all the wrong reasons. More Border Patrol members, better technology and increased funding for State and local law enforcement patrolling the Mexican Border can help make our borders safer from penetration by gangs and terrorists.

Chambliss remarked that Congress, having passed two critical pieces of legislation - the Secure Fence Act and the Homeland Security Appropriations Act - must stay "focused on this critical issue." Congress needs to provide exacting oversight of our efforts to stop unlawful activity along the Mexican Border.

America has not been targeted by a terrorist attack since 9/11. Complacent Americans need to read ALITS, which is available on the website of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and to carefully reconsider their viewpoint. Americans - and there are many -who have long been concerned about the lack of adequate enforcement along the Mexican Border can write letters to editors and call radio talk shows to spread the word about ALITS. Homeland security is an enormous task, one that demands careful prioritizing. There are many potential threats. Having the Mexican Border so porous is a serious matter, particularly given the ability of terrorists to enter our country to commit serious crime.