Center for Immigration Studies- On several occasions in October 2018, President Donald Trump and some administration officials suggested that migrants from Middle Eastern countries might have traveled among the thousands of Hondurans in a U.S.-bound column. Later, the president stated he had “very good information” that Middle Eastern migrants had been traveling through Latin America for a number of years, independently of migrant columns, that “there could very well be” Islamic terrorists in this traffic, and that U.S. Border Patrol has intercepted “some real bad ones”.1
The administration did not provide either publicly available or protected Classified and Law Enforcement Sensitive information to support the assertions, leaving them challenged and unresolved, whereas more information might have advanced discourse regarding a significant security question relevant to an ongoing national policy debate. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, in one emblematic expression, dismissed the idea of Middle Eastern travelers through Latin America and potential terrorists among them as “pretty much a canard and a fear tactic”.2
This Backgrounder provides an initial accounting of publicly documented instances, between 2001 and November 2018, of some 15 migrants with credibly suspected or confirmed terrorism ties who were encountered at the southern border after smuggling through Latin America, or who were encountered while presumably en route. The purpose of this Backgrounder is to inform the extent to which claims by the Executive Branch and its skeptics are supportable and also to usefully inform any other interested stakeholders.
-From only public realm reporting, 15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001.
-The 15 terrorism-associated migrants who traveled to the U.S. southern border likely represent a significant under-count since most information reflecting such border-crossers resides in classified or protected government archives and intelligence databases.
-Affiliations included al-Shabbab, al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, Hezbollah, the Pakistani Taliban, ISIS, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, and the Tamil Tigers.
-At least five of the 15 were prosecuted for crimes in North American courts. One is currently under Canadian prosecution for multiple attempted murder counts. Of the four in the United States, one was prosecuted for lying to the FBI about terrorism involvement, one for asylum fraud, one for providing material support to a terrorist organization, and one for illegal entry, false statements, and passport mutilation.
See the individual cases at cis.org
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