Expert calls Desmond’s plan to close border over Hamas ‘completely unhinged’

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San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and other Republican politicians are calling for a border shutdown over concerns that Hamas terrorists may enter the country illegally.

But a Middle East expert called their declaration “preposterous and completely unhinged.”

“This is the very definition of hysteria,” said Michael Provence, professor of Middle Eastern History at UC San Diego.

The politicians’ called for a border shutdown came after the right-wing news and opinion website The Daily Caller published an unverified memo from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stating that “foreign fighters of Israel-Hamas conflict may potentially be encountered at Southwest Border.”

Border officials declined to verify the authenticity of the leaked memo, stating it’s CBP policy to “neither confirm nor speak to potentially improperly disclosed information or internal documents.”

But a CBP spokesperson said the agency “has seen no indication of Hamas-directed foreign fighters seeking to make entry into the United States.”

The Department of Homeland Security also issued a statement this week saying, “we do not have specific and credible intelligence indicating a threat to the United States at this time stemming from the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.”

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, Congressional Candidate Margarita Wilkerson and County Board of Supervisor candidate Amy Reichert joined Desmond’s calls for a border shutdown during a press conference Thursday morning.

“It’s time to close the border to new immigration,” Desmond said.

Under Desmond’s proposed closure, there would be no new migration, but if people already have documentation to come across or work in the United States, “that’s fine,” he said.

Provence, who has studied the Middle East region for decades and written several books, pointed to multiple factors to dismiss Desmond’s concerns.

The first is that Palestinians cannot leave Gaza right now.

“If a person in Gaza wanted to get to the southern border, they couldn’t get out of Gaza,” he said. “It’s completely ringed in by the Israelis. So, it would be physically impossible.”

Second, Hamas has not made direct threats to the United States.

“Its entire existence is based on opposition to Israel and Israeli occupation,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the United States, it’s not engaged in the United States, it’s never threatened the United States.”

During the press conference, Desmond pointed to CBP statistics showing a record number of individuals on the Terror Watchlist who have been apprehended at the southern border: 169 so far in the 2023 fiscal year.

However, immigration experts say people on that watchlist at the southern border are overwhelmingly connected to domestic terrorist groups in Latin American countries, not Middle Eastern terrorist organizations targeting the United States.

CBP data also shows there were more individuals from the terror watchlist apprehended at legal ports of entry along the northern border: 484 so far this fiscal year.

Being on the Terror Watchlist does not necessarily mean an individual is a terrorist or part of an active terrorist organization, according to a 2023 report from the Department of Homeland Security.

Desmond dismissed Provence’s criticisms, calling them a difference of opinion.

“There are many opinions out there, I want to protect the United States,” he said.

Provence encouraged news consumers to seek out reliable sources of information and not depend on partisan political officials.

“We didn’t hear it from the FBI, we didn’t hear it from the presidential administration, we didn’t hear it from the State Department, we heard it from a handful of mostly conservative political officials who have no knowledge of the Middle East or the political situation in Israel and Palestine,” he said.

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