During an appearance onÂ Fox News‘ “Fox News Sunday” with host Chris Wallace, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended POTUS Donald Trump’s border security initiatives including his efforts to get a wall or some form of substantial barrier built along sections where they are needed.
At one point, Wallace asked Sanders if the president was serious when he said he would allow the partial government shutdown to continue until he got his requested funding, and she assured the host that POTUS — who is scheduled to visit the border on Thursday — was dead serious.
Wallace then moved the conversation to the administration’s stated purposes behind the border wall. The Blaze reported:
The Trump administration says, among other reasons, that a border wall would prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the U.S. has detained 3,000 “special interest aliens” who crossed the border. She attempted to imply those detained were suspected terrorists.
However, Wallace noted that, according to a September State DepartmentÂ report, “‘special interest aliens’ are just people who have come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist, they’re not terrorists themselves. The State Department says, ‘There was no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.'”
Undeterred, Sanders replied, “We know that roughly, nearly, 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is [the] southern border.”
“I know the statistic, I didn’t know if you were going to use it, but I studied up on this,” Wallace said. “Do you know what those 4,000 people come where they are captured? Airports!”
“Not always,” Sanders tried to say before Wallace cut her off.
“The State Department says there hasn’t been any terrorists found coming across the southern border from Mexico,” Wallace noted again.
“It’s by air, it’s by land, it’s by sea, it’s all of the above,” Sanders replied. “But one thing that you’re forgetting is at the most vulnerable point of entry that we have into this country is our southern border and we have to protect it. And the more and more individuals that knowâ€””
“But they’re not coming across the southern border, Sarah, they’re coming and they’re being stopped at airports,” Wallace interjected again.
So who’s right? Was this a Wallace “gotcha” moment?
Not if recent research from the Center for Immigration Studies is accurate.
The group said in a November report that indeed genuine terrorist suspects have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border:
From intelligence community sources with access to protected government information, the Center for Immigration Studies has learned that at least 100 migrants from “countries of interest,” encountered between 2012 and 2017 at or en route to the southern border, matched the U.S. terrorism “watch lists” known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), or the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). The number of such law enforcement land border encounters with such watch-listed migrants has risen drastically each year after 2012, according to the information, which is deemed credible but could not be independently corroborated.
For perspective, the 100 or so watch-listed migrants logged from 2012-2017 compares to roughly 3,000 “special interest alien” migrants from countries of interest who are annually apprehended at the southern border. This indicates a small ratio of terrorist suspects apprehended at the border, though a high number considering the threat that any one of them poses is outsized and of high consequence. Still, these figures represent only publicly reportable cases and would not represent, for instance, terrorism-associated migrants who evaded detection altogether or who simply had not been watch-listed or never raised suspicion after apprehension as they were released pending asylum claims into the country’s interior.
Another key finding by CIS: “From only public realm reporting, 15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001.”
The November report follows a previous backgrounder from CIS in August 2018, which noted that, in the waning days of the Obama administration, then-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson was concerned about the same thing — terrorist infiltration along the southwestern border, as evidenced by a memo he issued “to 10 top law enforcement chiefs responsible for border security.”
CIS noted further:
The subject line referenced a terrorism threat at the nation’s land borders that had been scarcely acknowledged by the Obama administration during its previous seven years. So far, it also has evaded much mention in national debate over Trump administration immigration policy.
The subject line read: “Cross-Border Movement of Special Interest Aliens”.
What followed were orders, unusual in the sense that they demanded the “immediate attention” of the nation’s most senior immigration and border security leaders to counter such an obscure terrorism threat.
Secretary Johnson ordered that they form a “multi-DHS Component SIA Joint Action Group” and produce a “consolidated action plan” to take on this newly important threat. He was referring to the smuggling of migrants from Muslim-majority countries, often across the southern land border â€” a category of smuggled persons likely already known to memo recipients as special interest aliens, or SIAs. Secretary Johnson provided few clues for the apparent urgency, except to state: “As we all appreciate, SIAs may consist of those who are potential national security threats to our homeland. Thus, the need for continued vigilance in this particular area.” Elsewhere, the secretary cited “the increased global movement of SIAs.”
CIS noted in the August backgrounder that to date, no one who has crossed the southwestern border illegally has committed an act of terrorism in the United States.
But irrespective of what Wallace’s motives were for playing “gotcha” with Sanders, the fact remains there is enough data and information to warrant legitimate concerns about these kinds of infiltrations.
And more than enough to warrant action by the president to ensure theyÂ don’t happen — hence, another reason why Democrats should support physical border security. After all, it’s one of the primary issues that got him elected.
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