Napolitano Says People From Countries Tied to Terrorism Could ‘Potentially’ Enter USA, But DHS Reports Says Thousands Already Have

March 2, 2010 01:05 – By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told senators it is a national security concern that people from countries with ties to terrorism could ‘potentially’ gain entry into the United States by crossing the country’s southern border.

But according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own reports, thousands of people from 14 “special interest” countries already have come into the United States illegally, including some across the U.S.-Mexico border.  (The State Department designates some nations as “special interest” counties because of their links to terrorism.)

Napolitano testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday. Her remarks on “special interest” persons came after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked her about the ongoing violence in Mexico and the possibility of that violence spilling over into the United States.

“So, if the drug cartels succeeded, then it would be a matter of time before the violence would spill over onto our side of the border,” McCain said. “Not to mention the free, basically free, access they would have to bring drugs, as well as humans, into our country.”

“We haven’t seen spillover violence in that sense yet,” Napolitano said. “It is a risk. The ability to traffic in drugs cause their own damage to lives in the United States.

“Our ability to curtail that would be affected,” she said. “On the human trafficking side, it’s not solely illegal immigrants coming to work, but the ability of people from countries of special interest to immigrate into Central America and be ferried up to the border and over into the United States is also a concern.”

McCain responded: “Countries of special interest – people could come up through our southern border?”

“Potentially, yes,” Napolitano said.

The State Department lists four special interest countries as sponsors of terror – Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran. The other 10 countries of interest are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

A prototype of a tower for a virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexico border at a test facility in Playas, N.M. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
According to the DHS’s 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Studies, from the Office of Immigration Statistics, a total of 791,568 people where detained by federal law enforcement agencies in fiscal year 2008 – 5,506 of those people were from those 14 “special interest” countries.

The report states that those individuals were detained “at the borders of the United States, in the interior of the country and at designated sites outside of the United States.” It does not disclose those details for each individual, however.

The specific numbers of individuals by country are labeled in the yearbook at the chapter, “Deportable Aliens Located by Region and Country of Nationality: Fiscal Year 2008.”

Afghanistan – 29
Algeria – 41
Cuba – 3,896
Iran – 98
Iraq – 118
Lebanon – 188
Liberia – 98
Libya – 11
Nigeria – 299
Pakistan – 494
Saudi Arabia – 71
Somalia – 66
Sudan – 46
Syria – 71
Yemen — 78

In accordance with federal law, any individual arrested by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) are then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is responsible for detention and deportation.

Aside from the number of individuals and their country of origin, the DHS does not release any further information about the individuals, including whether they were found to have links with terrorist groups. is seeking further information about illegal aliens in U.S. custody from 2007 to 2009 from the 14 countries of special interest, through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to an August 2009 report on checkpoints and border security by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 530 illegal aliens from countries of special interest were “encountered” at CBP checkpoints in fiscal year 2008.

The report states:

“Checkpoints also help screen for individuals who may have ties to terrorism. CBP reported that in fiscal year 2008, there were three individuals encountered by the Border Patrol at southwest border checkpoints who were identified as persons linked to terrorism.

“In addition, the Border Patrol reported that in fiscal year 2008 checkpoints
encountered 530 aliens from special interest countries, which are countries the Department of State has determined to represent a potential terrorist threat to the United States.

“While people from these countries may not have any ties to illegal or terrorist activities, Border Patrol agents detain aliens from special interest countries if they are in the United States illegally and Border Patrol agents report these encounters to the local
Sector Intelligence Agent, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations, and the CBP National Targeting Center.

“For example, according to a Border Patrol official in the El Paso sector, a checkpoint stopped a vehicle and questioned its three Iranian occupants, determining that one of those occupants was in the United States illegally. The individual was detained and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further questioning.”

As reported earlier by, the federal government, including DHS, have extensive information about the drug and human trafficking over the U.S. border with Mexico.

The entire U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long, according to the International Boundary and Water Commission. While 697 of those miles are now under “effective control,” according to the Border Patrol, 1,257 miles are not under “effective control.”

Each year, the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) produces “drug market analyses” for each of 32 regions of the country that the NDIC describes as “high intensity drug trafficking areas.” Five of these areas sit along the U.S.-Mexico border. These include the California border region, Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas and South Texas.

The latest reports, released in March and April of 2009, use candid language in portraying the U.S.-Mexican frontier as wide open to drug smuggling and even vulnerable to penetration by potential terrorists.

The California-Mexico border, the NDIC said, was “easily breached” on both foot and in vehicles.

“The vast border area presents innumerable remote crossing points that traffickers exploit to smuggle illicit drugs, primarily marijuana, into the country from Mexico,” said the NDIC. “These areas are easily breached by traffickers on foot, in private vehicles, or in all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) as they smuggle drugs between POEs [ports of entry], particularly the mountainous areas in eastern San Diego County and the desert and sand dune areas in Imperial County.”

Arizona’s border was judged to be open not only to drug smugglers but also aliens with “extensive criminal records” and from “special interest countries,” which are defined as “countries that could export individuals who could bring harm to the United States through terrorism.”

“Some criminal organizations smuggle aliens and gang members into the United States,” said NDIC’s report on Arizona. “These particular individuals typically have extensive criminal records and pose a threat, not only to the Arizona HIDTA [High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area] region but also to communities throughout the United States. Alien smuggling organizations reportedly also smuggle aliens from countries other than Mexico, including special-interest countries.”

“Special-interest countries are those designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals who could bring harm to the United States through terrorism,” said the NDIC report.

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