I never want to see another American killed by someone we could have stopped at the border. Sometime between 9/11 and today, our conversation about border security got muddled. The wall, border patrol, surveillance of human trafficking routes – all of these have been recast exclusively into the context of immigration policy. Border security is a key component of our national security, the common defense, and homeland security.
On the micro scale, there’s no question that we’re safer than we were before events of 9/11. Thanks to important reforms like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), thorough intelligence gathering and no-fly lists, new technology at border checkpoints and more, we are better equipped than ever to catch terrorists and drug traffickers before they can enter the U.S.
On the macro scale, extremism and criminal networks flourish across the globe even as we shift focus back to threats from nation-states like Russia and China. In the Middle East, 98 percent of Islamic State (ISIS) territorial claims have been recaptured. However, the collapse of the caliphate resulted in thousands of trained, radicalized, and committed militants fleeing to different parts of the world, vowing to carry out destruction in the West. Attacks throughout Europe have been especially high-profile, including a suicide bombing outside a pop concert in Manchester, England, and a truck attack in Nice, France, that killed 86. Throughout Central and South America, cartels operate with impunity and Venezuela teeters on collapse and threatens to destabilize the entire region.
In recent testimony, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signaled her agency’s alarm over recent developments. First, in 2017 alone, the U.S. government caught or prevented over 3,700 known or suspected terrorists from traveling to the United States, a rate of 10 per day. Second, Secretary Nielsen revealed the discovery of materials written by ISIS militants encouraging their followers to cross into the United States through our southwest border and take advantage of our well-known immigration loopholes.
This much is undeniable: terrorists are seeking to enter our country and they are aware of our existing border security weaknesses. This is beyond alarming, it is damaging to the legitimacy of our immigration system and collective sense of safety. It takes a combination of good intelligence, physical barriers, and careful surveillance to have strong borders and thorough vetting. When we prevent people from crossing the border illegally and can vet everyone entering our country, we can better distinguish between those who come to proudly contribute to our society and the terrorists who seek to destroy it. If a terrorist enters our country illegally and carries out an attack, it costs us lives, resources, and distracts from our efforts to create a well-structured immigration system that works for everyone.
Some politicians in favor of open borders ridicule the fears about terrorists entering our country, declaring that no terrorist groups operate in Mexican territory, that ISIS fights in Syria, not Tijuana. Besides dismissing the murderous nature of drug cartels just to score political points, this position also ignores the well-documented nature of criminal networks. Central and South American drug cartels have extensive resources and a track record of working with corrupt governments, gangs, and other criminal networks. A recent Politico article titled “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook,” reports how Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization responsible for a host of anti-American and anti-Israeli attacks, is deeply involved in cocaine trafficking, money laundering, and weapon smuggling in Venezuela. The Politico article tells of how cocaine from Hezbollah-linked networks enters U.S. cities through our southern border with the cooperation of cartels. We should not kid ourselves; terrorist organizations are already at work in Central and South America. No one else will save us. We must save ourselves.
We must secure our land borders, our airports, and our seaports. We must know who and what is coming into our country. That is a basic responsibility of government. It is a shield against terrorists and criminals, necessary to protect our communities and country.