Is the US being infiltrated by foreign terrorists at the southern border?

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Former President Donald Trump took to social media with a warning about potential terrorists infiltrating the United States through our southern border.

Trump spoke of the terror group Hamas’ attack on Israel and said the U.S. faces a similar threat.

“The same people that raided Israel are pouring into our once beautiful USA through our totally open southern border at record numbers. These are the same people, many of them, that did a number in Israel. A sneak attack,” Trump said in a Facebook video posted Friday.

“We cannot let this happen,” Trump continued. “They may be planning something very, very bad.”

Fox News recently reported on thousands of “special interest aliens” from the Middle East and elsewhere nabbed by U.S. Border Patrol agents while trying to cross our southern border over the last two years, citing leaked internal government data.

And that includes a handful of people from Iran, Lebanon and Syria apprehended in Texas in recent weeks.

Should Americans be concerned about terrorists at the border?

Boise State Professor Michael A. Allen, a political scientist with expertise in national security, said it’s “a growing concern” but one “lacking in terms of the link between illegal immigration and terrorism.”

“I think this is a political game that’s using a recent event to try to increase capacity or funding for a border support,” he said.

“Special interest” immigrants are non-Americans flagged generally for their points of origin or travel patterns.

The Department of Homeland Security said that such a designation doesn’t mean a person is a terrorist, but their travel or some other factor “indicates a possible nexus to nefarious activity,” including terrorism.

And those people are subjected to heightened screening and further investigation.

The department put out its Homeland Threat Assessment last month, saying it expects a “high but largely unchanged” threat of violence from extremists radicalized in the United States in the coming year.

Domestic violent extremists have conducted several fatal attacks in the U.S. since January 2022, resulting in 21 deaths, according to the report.

Only one attack was carried out by a person inspired by a foreign terrorist organization during the same time.

The government said it expects Iran to remain the primary sponsor of terrorism, with foreign terrorists continuing to engage supporters online.

And the report warned, “Individuals with terrorism connections are interested in using established travel routes and permissive environments to facilitate access to the United States.”

But the report said “drugs kill and harm far more people in the United States annually” than terrorists, noting the increased supply of fentanyl.

Seizures of fentanyl at our southern border have continued to increase throughout 2023, the department said. And agents are on track to seize a record amount of fentanyl entering the U.S.

Seizures of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine have either remained steady or declined over the last several years.

“Just because people from the Middle East are encountered at the southern border does not mean that they are terrorists,” Ernesto Castaneda, director of the Immigration Lab at American University, said via email.

He noted that 9/11 hijackers came to the U.S. on visas.

He said there is not a crisis related to terrorists entering the U.S. illegally through the southern border.

Since 2001, all but two foreign terrorists who were active in the U.S. gained entry through a legal port of entry on the border with Mexico, he said.

And he said less than 1% of all apprehensions from 2007 until 2017 were issued against people from special interest countries.

Allen said most of these hits for “special interest” immigrants take place at our northern border. And most of them involve air travel, not border crossings by people on foot.

“If you’re from Iran, you immediately get flagged for this,” Allen said. “And it doesn’t mean you have anything to do with terrorism whatsoever.”

Asylum seekers from Central and South America are “fleeing for their lives and liberties,” another immigration expert recently told The National Desk.

Allen said Iranians might also be fleeing a harmful regime and seeking a better life in the U.S.

Both Allen and Castaneda mentioned that people on watchlists often get there due to name confusion, possible family connections to terrorists, or association to a demobilized group.

And Allen noted that the Islamic State in previous years aimed to radicalize people who were already in the U.S.

“Certainly, I can imagine (terror) groups try to (cross into the U.S.), but we don’t have a lot of high-profile incidents of people who have crossed illegally who went on to commit terrorism,” Allen said.

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