Mideast Smuggling Case Highlights Threats at Southern Border
A Jordanian man who smuggled at least six Yemeninationals into the U.S. has heightened concerns about security vulnerabilitiesalong the Mexican border.
Law enforcement sources told the San Antonio Express-News that some of the Yemenis were on terror watch lists.
Moayad Heider Mohammad Aldairi, 31, pleadedguilty this week in Texas to transporting illegal aliens for financial gain.His operation was part of an international network uncovered by HomelandSecurity Investigations (HSI), a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
HSI agents said Aldairi planned and coordinatedmigrant travels through Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras,El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
While a humanitarian crisis festers at theborder, the Aldairi case stokes concerns about who is really coming and why.Are all the migrants turning up at the southern border attempting to escapepoverty, or are terrorists hiding among the throngs?
U.S. Attorney John F. Bash of the WesternDistrict of Texas said, “We’re notonly talking about Central American economic migrants or asylum seekers. We’retalking about people from anywhere in the world, including countries like Yementhat has an enormous terrorist presence — al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula —able to get into this country by flying to counties like Ecuador and then justcrossing this border.”
“Aldairi chargedjust $2,000 to $6,000 a person to get into this country. Imagine someone withan organization that wants to do something nefarious in the United States.Paying $2,000 or $3,000 a person is nothing if you’re plotting a significantattack in the United States,” Bash said.
State Dept.: Southern Borderis a Soft Target for Terrorists
Todd Bensman, of the Center for Immigration Studies, says, “Thousands of so-called ‘special interest aliens’ (SIAs) arriving annually from the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa — mostly without any identification or vetting — have given rise to national security worries about infiltration.”
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz of the Del Rio Sector, wherethe six Yemenis were apprehended, said his officers have encountered illegalborder crossers from 53 countries. This year, he estimated that more than 5,000escaped capture and are unaccounted for.
Clearly, humansmugglers are capitalizing on chaotic conditions at the border.
“Right now BorderPatrol agents are being pulled out of the field to process family units,” Bashsaid. “That creates a vicious cycle because more and more people can enterundetected because we have fewer agents in the field.”
Even when arrests are made, the results aren’tnecessarily comforting.
While Aldairi faces three to 10 years inprison, the six Yemenis were prosecuted for illegal entry, which is amisdemeanor carrying light penalties. They served sentences of just 14 to 20days, and three of the six remain in the U.S. Officials would not providedetails on their status or whereabouts.