SWAIN & SHARAD: Radicals lay siege to our border

Illegal immigration is declining but not from terrorist countries

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On Jan. 25, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano gave a talk at the University of Texas at El Paso in which she touted the Obama administration’s success at protecting the southwestern border. “Illegal immigration is decreasing, deportations are increasing, and crime rates have gone down,” she claimed. Recently, shocking developments have highlighted the need for a refocused immigration debate that places national security and identification of current illegal aliens above any discussions of legalizing America’s current population of illegal aliens.

Three days after Ms. Napolitano spoke, the U.S. Border Patrol captured Said Jaziri, a radical Islamic cleric, hidden in the trunk of a car 50 miles east of San Diego. Mr. Jaziri, one of the imams who had called for the death of the Danish cartoonist behind the drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, purportedly paid a Mexican human-trafficking cartel $5,000 to smuggle him into the country. The court set his bail at $25,000. There is little to prevent him from posting bail and disappearing into the countryside, where he most certainly will find refuge among sympathetic supporters.

Mr. Jaziri’s capture is merely the latest in a long string of other-than-Mexican (OTM) arrests going back several years. A couple of days before the imam’s capture, Border Patrol officers found a discarded Iranian book of martyrdom along a well-known smuggling route. For all of the so-called martyrs, the book provided biographies, letters addressed to their families, and, in some cases, their last wills and testaments. Though U.S. officials do not know who discarded the book or when, we do know that it is the latest example of radical Islamist paraphernalia that has been found along the border.

Department of Homeland Security statistics confirm that hundreds of OTMs are apprehended each year. An independent analysis of department data shows that the problem of OTM apprehensions on the southwestern border has been growing at an alarming rate. While overall apprehensions at the Mexican border have declined dramatically - 67 percent - from 2000 to 2009, apprehensions of OTMs have not declined. In fact, apprehensions of OTMs and special-interest aliens - those migrants who originate in countries that are known to sponsor terror - have jumped during the same period - 58 percent and 67 percent, respectively.

It is unknown how many illegal aliens evade capture by the Border Patrol. According to 2006 federal law enforcement estimates, just 10 percent to 30 percent of all migrants crossing the border are apprehended. What is more worrying, however, is that OTMs - especially those with ulterior motives like Mr. Jaziri or those sponsored by an outside organization - are vastly more likely to have the resources to employ the most expensive human-smuggling organizations that use the routes where capture is the least likely. Therefore, it is safe to assume that an even lower percentage of OTMs are captured than what is reflected by the federal law enforcement estimates. This raises the essential question: How many radicals like Said Jaziri have been able to avoid apprehension successfully and infiltrate the country?

To say that our borders are under siege by those who would wish us harm is perhaps an understatement. It is unmistakable that the southwestern border is a particularly vulnerable entry point of our country - and terrorist organizations like al Qaeda are aware of this fact. While politicians from both major parties agree on the need for tighter security at the border, the twofold problems of border security and OTM apprehensions have not yet received significant legislative attention. Attempts to address border security are routinely mired in legislative quagmires on Capitol Hill as politicians struggle to satisfy interest-group demands to normalize the status of America’s current illegal alien population. The recent legislative debate over the Dream Act is an excellent illustration of Congress’ and the president’s preoccupation with immigration issues that are far less pressing than the very real threat posed by unknown numbers of OTMs crossing the southwestern border.

The American public deserves better. It is time that we hold Ms. Napolitano, President Obama and Congress accountable for their failure to enforce immigration laws and secure the borders. The security of our homeland is at stake. We need leadership that moves beyond the politics of re-election, taking bold stances and proposing innovative reforms for the peace and security of the American people.

Carol M. Swain is a professor of political science and of law at Vanderbilt University, where Saurabh Sharad is a student.

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