In the final days of his presidency and his last visit to the U.S. southern border, Donald Trump stood next to his contentious wall in Alamo, Texas on January 12, 2021 and uttered a striking claim that went entirely unreported by any traditional news media outlet.
"We have terrorists from the Middle East coming through our country through the southern border. That was before what you see right here [gesturing toward the border wall]," the president said. "Because it was easier to come into our country through the southern border than it was through airports or any other means. These are people from some very seriously dangerous places in the Middle East. And the numbers are far greater than anybody would understand, really far greater."
Trump's tortured credibility after four years notwithstanding, the silence about this national security claim long predates his presidency. Somewhere along the way after 9/11, the idea that Islamic extremist migrants might steal over the porous southern land border was wounded in the nation's hyper-partisan cross-fire over all things immigration. Now, this notion of border infiltration is immediately toe-tagged as fraudulent, xenophobic, and discreditably Trumpian, rendering it a taboo subject unworthy of serious contemplation.
The notion of terrorist border infiltration is immediately toe-tagged as discreditably Trumpian.
But that circumstance — denialism that prevents sober consideration — occurs at a dangerous moment with the seating of President Joe Biden and an administration that has messaged its welcome of mass irregular migration over the southern border as an essential American value.
The Biden administration's ideology about mass illegal migration closely mirrors that of politically liberal Europe Union leaders of 2015, on the eve of a foreseen catastrophe. That was when Germany's Angela Merkel threw security concerns to the wind and opened the gates to a vast migration that had built up at EU borders from countries beset by violent Islamic groups and institutionalized extremist ideologies.
The Biden administration has messaged its welcome of mass irregular migration over the southern border.
As millions poured through and Europeans basked in praise that humanitarian impulses had prevailed over xenophobic warnings of terrorist border infiltration, many scores of extremists did just that. More than 150 terrorists (by the best available tallies) exploited the human sea as camouflage to get in on bogus asylum claims, with backlogs providing ample time to kill and wound many hundreds in a dozen naïvely generous European countries. Starting with the horrific November 2015 suicide bombing attacks in Paris and then more in Brussels a few months later, migrant-terrorist border infiltrators went on bloody killing sprees that have yet to end even five years later.
My book, America's Covert Border War: The Untold Story of the Nation's Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration, goes well beyond establishing that President Trump was much closer to truth that day in Alamo, Texas than were his critics who, when he claimed earlier in his presidency that the threat was real, shouted him down as a fear-mongering liar. Proponents of unrestricted illegal immigration often insist that migration from those areas of the world to the southern border never happens, let alone with terrorist travelers among them.
But it is they who are wrong. Perhaps the most convincing evidence can be found in the existence of sprawling mostly-covert American homeland security programs that were deployed many years ago at the physical border and throughout Latin America — which operate to this day — with a singular purpose: detect and intercept terrorist travelers.
The objectives of America's Covert Border War are fundamentally apolitical and nonpartisan.
If there were no threat of border infiltration as rejectionists constantly insist, why then would American presidents, both Democrats and Republicans alike, maintain these projects? The short answer here is that American leaderships on both sides of the partisan divide have read the same intelligence as did President Trump about this jihadist travel preference and their steady aspirations to enter by land border as homeland security improvements after 9/11 made airport-to-airport travel on visas more difficult. The objectives of America's Covert Border War, as I call these programs, are fundamentally apolitical and nonpartisan.
The same circumstances that preceded Europe's catastrophe indisputably confront the United States.
On a smaller scale and with differences in cost and tactics to bridge the Atlantic Ocean, the same circumstances that preceded Europe's catastrophe indisputably confront the United States. Specialized human smugglers run networks that transport thousands of migrants each year from the same concerning nations to the U.S. southern border, often with no identification, where they typically claim asylum and are let in just as in Europe. As my book details, America's covert border warriors have caught confirmed and suspected jihadists among them, at the border and en route through Latin America, preventing attacks for years.
But while it may be true that America's covert border war has prevented attack so far, Europe's experience shows that mass migration severely weakens all normal defenses and security filters. What happened over there matters right now because the Biden administration's messages of welcome increasingly sound like 2015 European leaderships, when words and actions sparked that mass migration crisis. In addition, working against Americans is the time-honored truism that terrorist groups and criminal actors throughout the world always note past successes and try to replicate them. Ongoing European border infiltrations certainly qualify as noteworthy successes.
Have they also noticed that powerful institutional forces in the United States insist they would never try it and could not succeed?
Whether Biden can be blamed for any coming mass migration border crises involving illegal immigrants is almost irrelevant. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's October 2020 national threat assessment still predicted sharp migration surges for this year for a variety of other reasons once pandemic-related border closures in Latin America lift. The report foretells collapsing U.S. border management and asylum processing systems in just the way that Europe's enabled its infiltrators.
Now is the wrong time to let partisan denialism kill thoughtful contemplation about border infiltration.
Now is exactly the wrong time to let false taboos and partisan denialism kill thoughtful contemplation about preserving and resourcing America's covert border war so that it may reduce the risks from this chronically maligned national security threat. It deserves a seat at the table along with the other border issues, and soon.
Todd Bensman is a Senior National Security Fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies.
Todd Bensman is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior national security fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies. He previously led counterterrorism-related intelligence efforts for the Texas Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division. He is the author of the forthcoming book America's Covert Border War: The Untold Story of the Nation's Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration.