LA CRUZ, Costa Rica – Seven Eritreans sit in an irregular circle near the bus station in this far northwest corner of the country, discussing how they would eat that night and how they will get back on track to the American southern border.
One English-speaker among the Eritreans describes a bad first run-in with bandits and then with Nicaraguan soldiers during an attempted border crossing a few days earlier. They had all been robbed of everything they owned. Then, Nicaraguan soldiers detained them for four days and threw them back over to the Costa Rica side.
But no matter to these young men; After paying $15,000 each to smugglers who got them this far on a serpentine international journey through tough countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Egypt and then Brazil and Colombia to Panama, the Nicaragua misfortune had apparently registered as a blip on the collective determination to reach the American border.
"My dream is Texas," Ahmed said. "I can work in Texas. I love Texas."
By the next morning, they were gone.
Immigrants from assortment of Islamic nations where terrorism reigns
Americans are familiar with the Central Americans who have spearheaded a massive illegal entry crisis at the southern border since US President Joe Biden was elected on promises to reverse former President Donald Trump's enforcement-based border policies.
However, a lesser-known but often overlooked and more concerning assortment of nationalities also has responded to the Biden administration's more lenient border policies. Immigrants from well over 100 countries are on the way in escalating numbers as well, bringing with them a national security risk entirely distinct from any posed by Central Americans. These immigrants are coming to claim asylum from wellspring nations of terrorism and vicious inter-tribal warfare involving brutal militia conflict.
At issue with these probable asylum-seekers is that US homeland security agencies are challenged – even in normal times – to determine if the arriving strangers are persecuted deserving of a safe haven or if they are among the persecutors. Are they African war criminals and violent jihadists masking who they really are: or their victims?
When all border management systems are strained to the breaking point as they reportedly are now, and in any absence of investigative vetting, the risk increases that Islamic terrorists, or African war criminals can more easily infiltrate. Many, such as the Eritreans at the La Cruz bus station, will arrive with no form of identification or even convincing proof of nationality, thereby forcing homeland security officers to begin at square zero, if they are able to investigate at all.
Many migrants arrive with no form of identification or even convincing proof of nationality.
Americans will not want anything close to the European experience with mass-migration. Since a border crisis involving millions from Muslim-majority nations developed after the 2011 "Arab Spring" through 2018, more than 140 terrorist operatives and Syrian war criminals exploited border control breakdowns to infiltrate Europe's external land and maritime borders, according to the book Jihadist Infiltration of Migrant Flows to Europe by researcher Sam Mullins and separate research by the Center for Immigration Studies. Some of these border infiltrators perpetrated the 2015 Paris and 2016 Brussels attacks and went on to inflict mayhem from one end of the continent to the other to the present day. Others turned out to be ISIS executioners hiding as fake asylum seekers.
By the numbers
America, since Biden's election, has become more vulnerable by the month, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics indicate.
CBP's June 2021 report shows that since November, "extra-continental" migrants and those from nations beyond Mexico and Central America have more than quintupled and at more than a quarter of the 178,416 Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border, which is at a two-decade high. Some are from failing states in his hemisphere, such as Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba where criminal histories do not exist or are not accessible.
By comparison, in November 2020, the number of non-Central Americans and non-Mexicans amounted to 5,774 – a number that about doubled after Biden's inauguration in February to 11,906, more than doubled again in March to 25,117 (19 percent) and reached 47,215 in June, representing 26 percent of all apprehensions.
For fiscal year 2021 through June, the total numbers of non-Mexican, non-Central Americans reached 187,589 – more than 134,000 more than all of fiscal year 2020.
In just May alone, credible reports had more than 10,000 coursing through the Colombia-Panama Darien Gap section, a number that is greater than in many entire years.
A bit further north along the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border section of the trail recently, this author, for example, met five military-aged men from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and three from Senegal, both West African nations afflicted by various Islamic terrorist franchises.
Costa Rican authorities have arrested human smugglers transporting a dozen travelers from extremism-plagued Uzbekistan. The guest log book of a local motel across the street from the La Cruz bus station, where the Eritreans gathered, shows immigrants from other wellsprings of terrorism including Somalia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Yemen. Others had entered the home countries of India, Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil.
Why this traffic argues for an emergency end to the border crisis
In January and again in March, as the crisis was coming into bloom, Border Patrol caught two Yemeni border crossers in separate incidents near Calexico, California. Both were on the FBI's terrorism watch list, one of them also on the No Fly list and hiding a cell phone sim card in the insole of his shoe. This event oddly made it into a CBP press release, quickly taken down the following morning after White House intervention. These incidents are hardly unique.
The current secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Alejandro Mayorkas recently acknowledged to a congressional panel: "A known or suspected terrorist – KST is the acronym that we use – individuals who match that profile have tried to cross the border, the land border... not only this year but last year, the year prior and so on and so forth. And it is because of our multi-layered security apparatus, the architecture that we have built...that we are in fact able to identify and apprehend them and ensure they do not remain in the United States."
Every year since 9/11, the DHS nets an average of about 20 migrants on U.S. terror watch lists.
As detailed extensively in America's Covert Border War; The Untold Story of the Nation's Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration, every year since 9/11, the DHS nets an average of about 20 migrants on U.S. terror watch lists. They have been apprehended in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and at the American border itself.
One Somali who crossed the Mexico-California border went on in 2017 to conduct a double-vehicle ramming attack while carrying an ISIS flag – in Edmonton, Alberta. Laredo, Texas police officers nabbed another Somali – both a pirate and member of the al-Shabaab terrorist group – after a pell-mell car chase that ended in a dramatic crash.
Authorities discovered a different Somali border-crosser who professed to an undercover FBI informant in the detention center that he was a member of al-Shabaab who procured weapons for the group, still supported violent, radical jihad, the murder of non-Muslims, and adored Osama bin Laden.
"We are terrorists," the detainee admitted.
Between 2014 and 2019, Mexico's National Migration Institute determined that 19 migrants had ties to foreign terrorist groups. The Mexican agency listed them as Somalis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Ethiopians and Yemenis. The Mexicans quietly deported them.
Last July, the director of Panama's Senafront border agency told a group of visiting Arizona State University journalism students that since 2011, the agency had logged "more than 49 alerts on people from different countries linked to terrorist group." Most were deported, including six Pakistanis found to be associated with al-Qaeda who had entered from Colombia in August 2016 on their way to the American border.
On this same trail in Costa Rica in 2017, authorities detained a Somali suspected of international terrorism; ICE agents interrogated and eventually deported him. ...
At issue is that – when security vetting can't be done well in normal times, let alone during the current pressure cooker of overwhelming numbers – accepting people from lawless nations poses a heightened public-safety gamble for Americans that is not often enough acknowledged or discussed.
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.