A smuggling network has managed to sneak illegal immigrants from Middle East terrorism hotbeds straight to the doorstep of the U.S., including helping one Afghan man authorities say was part of an attack plot in North America.
Immigration officials have identified at least a dozen Middle Eastern men smuggled into the Western Hemisphere by a Brazilian-based network that connected them with Mexicans who guided them up to the U.S. border, according to internal government documents reviewed by The Washington Times.
Those smuggled included Palestinians, Pakistanis and the Afghan man who Homeland Security officials said had family ties to the Taliban and was “involved in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. and/or Canada.” He is in custody but the Times is withholding his name at the request of law enforcement to protect ongoing investigations.
Some of the men handled by the smuggling network were nabbed before they got to the U.S., but others actually made it into the country, including the Afghan man who was part of a group of six from so-called “special interest countries.”
The group, guided by two Mexicans employed by the smuggling network, crawled under the border fence in Arizona late last year and made it about 15 miles north before being detected by border surveillance, according to the documents, which were obtained by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican.
Law enforcement asked The Times to withhold the name of the smuggling network.
Just as troubling, the Border Patrol didn’t immediately spot the Afghan man’s terrorist ties because the database agents first checked didn’t list him. It wasn’t until they also checked an FBI database that they learned he may be a danger, the documents say.
“It’s disturbing, in so many ways,” said Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff. “The interdiction of this group validates once again that the southern border is wide open to more than people looking to enter the U.S. illegally strictly for purposes of looking for work, as the administration wants us to believe. What’s worse, federal databases weren’t even synched and Border Patrol had no idea who they were arresting and the group was not considered a problem because none of them were considered a priority under the president’s enforcement protocol. That’s a major problem on its own, and it calls for DHS to figure out the problem — and fast.”
Mr. Hunter wrote a letter to to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson this week demanding answers about the breakdowns in the process.
Both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is the chief agency charged with sniffing out smuggling networks, and Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol and which initially failed to sniff out the terrorist connections, declined to comment. Homeland Security, which oversees both agencies, didn’t provide an answer either.
The group of six men nabbed after they already got into the U.S. — the Afghan and five men identified as Pakistanis — all made asylum claims when they were eventually caught by the Border Patrol. Mr. Hunter said his understanding is that the five men from Pakistan were released based on those claims, and have disappeared.
The government documents reviewed by The Times didn’t say how much the smugglers charged, but did detail some of their operation.
Would-be illegal immigrants were first identified by a contact in the Middle East, who reported them to the smuggling network in Brazil. That network then arranged their travel up South America and through Central America, where some of them were nabbed by U.S. allies.
In the case of the Afghan man with terrorist ties, he was smuggled from Brazil through Peru, then Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and finally Mexico.
The government documents also said some of the special interest aliens caught at the border were previously identified by authorities in other Latin American countries — but had different sets of biometric identifiers associated with them. That raised questions of whether those countries are sharing accurate information with the U.S.
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