Usually the immigration debate revolves around the issues of economics, respect for law, social services, civil liberties, and the like as armies of illegal Mexicans slip across the border looking for work and a better life.
But there is another, far darker wrinkle:
- It’s no secret that people sneak into the United States from Mexico every day. But what has been kept under wraps is exactly who is coming in. NBC4’s Chuck Henry went deep in the Arizona desert to find out.
It’s a place that used to go by the name “Cocaine Alley” because of all the drugs that were smuggled through. But now some officials are more concerned about human smuggling, specifically illegal entry at the border by individuals who are not actually from Mexico. They’re called “Special Interest Aliens,” because they’re coming from countries believed to be a threat.
“People are coming here with bad intentions. I know of 10 that have been detained at my station alone,” said a Border Patrol agent whose identity has been withheld at his request. He said this is something that agents have been told not to talk about.
“We know for a fact that people coming from the Middle East are now coming into Mexico and spending a year, even two years in Mexico, to learn how to speak Spanish,” the Border Patrol agent told NBC4.
“The key is to pass yourself off as a Mexican,” said retired Army Colonel Ben Anderson. He has been following what he calls the terrorist trail and connecting the dots on his website. He said it’s a journey that begins on the other side of the world.
“You come out of Cairo International and you go either to England or Madrid. From there, you either go to Paraguay or Brazil. There is a huge infrastructure there waiting for you to learn how to speak Spanish. You’re then going to transition your way up through Latin America … into Mexico,” Anderson said.
….”There are gaps of 50 to 60 miles that I know of that are completely wide open, ” the Border Patrol agent told NBC4.
“Any American that thinks we have security on our southern border is mistaken, ” said California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
Not even members of Congress know exactly how many special interest persons have entered or have been detained at the border. Congressman Rohrabacher told NBC4, “They’re going to try and make it here in the safest possible path.”
It’s a path Rohrabacher is trying to uncover. He and other members of Congress sent a letter to Homeland Security demanding answers to the most basic questions. “How many people have been stopped at our southern border who would be hostile and coming from hostile countries,” Rohrabacher told NBC4. When Henry asked him if he had any idea of the answer, the Congressman replied, “it could be in the hundreds, it could be in the thousands.”
“I think it would be incredibly naive, to the point of stupidity, to not believe we have terrorists coming through here,” said Larry Vance, who lives on the border near Douglas, Ariz. He showed NBC4 a Middle Eastern prayer rug, found in the back yard of his house.
….”It’s very easy for them to enter the country. When you go to bed tonight, our border is definitely not secure. I can tell you that for a fact,” says the Border Patrol agent.
NBC4 called the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security asking them to speak on camera about the issues surrounding “Special Interest Aliens.” They declined. [NBC4]
So far, this is all anecdotal evidence, and those involved have an agenda — both Anderson and Rohrabacher are strongly anti-immigration and want sealed borders — but this is quite obviously cause for concern.
Meanwhile, Arizona passed a ballot measure prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits and like-minded Californians are cheered:
- “It’s clear there is public support for cutting off benefits to people here illegally,’ said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a group pushing a similar proposal in California. “What happened in Arizona is definitely a benefit because it keeps the issue at the forefront.’
Despite the opposition of Arizona’s political establishment, including business groups, churches and Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Proposition 200 prevailed 56percent to 44percent last week. Forty-seven percent of Latino voters supported the initiative, which requires proof of citizenship when seeking public benefits or registering to vote.
“We certainly think it’s going to have an effect, not just in California, but in other states where they’re dealing with large increases in illegal immigration,’ said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which spent about $400,000 to qualify and get the Arizona initiative passed.
“This serves as a model for what can be done around the country,’ Mehlman said. “If government isn’t going to be responsive to concerns about illegal immigration, then this is a way of going over their heads.’
It remains to be seen whether the measure will withstand court challenges. The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is expected to seek a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Proposition 200 after the results are certified Nov. 22.
….”In California, I think it would be a steeper climb,’ said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. “One, because of the sheer cost of the initiative process. Second, because politics here have been so badly burned by Proposition 187.’
Proposition 187, which was passed by California voters in 1994, denied many government services to undocumented immigrants. But the measure was thrown out because courts declared that parts of it conflicted with federal law.
Moreover, the racially charged nature of the campaign in support of Proposition 187 was widely viewed as damaging to the efforts of the Republican Party in California to win Latino voters.
“At least among a lot of people in politics, there’s a battle fatigue,’ Pitney said. “There’s an air of ‘Been there, done that.”
Nevertheless, the California Republican Assembly is pressing ahead with a proposal that would deny illegal immigrants driver’s licenses, in-state tuition and other public benefits not required by federal law.
….Politicians on both sides are reluctant to alienate Latino immigrants, who make up a potential gold mine of voters once they become citizens.
Outgoing Republican Assemblyman Bob Pacheco, R-Industry, said his party is torn over whether to support initiatives such as Save Our License.
“I don’t know it’s a winning issue for politicians,’ said Pacheco, who represents Chino Hills and served as California co-chair of President Bush’s re-election campaign. “There are mixed feelings within the party. Many recognize the damage that was done by 187. On the other hand, we know there is a very strong feeling about the need to control immigration.’
The ambivalence within the party over immigration manifested itself last year, when the proponents of Proposition 187 tried unsuccessfully to get a similar initiative on the ballot. The California Republican Party and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to endorse the measure promoted by Orange County resident Ron Prince, the proposition’s author. [San Bernardino County Sun]
Coincidentally, Secretary of State Colin Powell talked immigration reform yesterday in Mexico City:
- An end to the U.S. political season coupled with enhanced border security has significantly improved the climate in the United States for comprehensive immigration reform, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday.
….”We don’t want to over-promise,” Powell told a news conference during discussions here on a broad range of cross-border issues.
While Mexican officials had once expected “the whole enchilada” on immigration reform, Powell said officials of both countries have lowered their sights.
“We are now taking little bites of the enchilada,” Powell told local media.
….After speaking with reporters, Powell met with President Vicente Fox, who has made migration reform in the United States a top foreign policy priority.
He believes that the millions of Mexicans who work in the United States should be granted legal status, enabling them to live without fear of arrest and deportation.
During his discussions, Powell said he reaffirmed President Bush’s “plan to work with our new Congress to develop a temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing U.S.. employers.”
The comments suggested that the administration was giving priority to the provision in Bush’s proposal that would allow workers still in their home countries permission to work in the United States so long as they have a job offer.
A more controversial provision — which Powell did not mention — would allow undocumented aliens already in the United States to achieve legal status if they can prove they have employment. Beneficiaries would be granted permission to remain in the United States for three years, then be allowed to stay on if certain conditions are met.
Many in Congress are wary about doing favors for Mexicans and other migrants who arrived in the United States without official permission, seeing them as lawbreakers. Mexicans constitute by far the largest illegal immigrant community in the United States. The overall total is believed to be around 10 million.
Bush and Fox agreed in 2001 to press for immigration reform but the September 11 terrorist attacks soured Congress on the idea. Since the attacks, enhanced border security has been the dominant U.S. goal in relations with Mexico.
Powell indicated that he is pleased with Mexican cooperation on that issue.
“We are coming out of the 9/11 period and doing a better job of securing our border,” he said. [AP]
Hmm, that would appear to be in contrast with the NBC4 report above – perhaps it’s all relative. There is no question it is extremely complicated.