Traveling through the Panama-Colombia Darien Gap from Syria, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc.
By Todd Bensman as originally published December 3, 2021 by the Center for Immigration Studies
AUSTIN, Texas — The press office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection offered no judgments in a recent press release pregnant with unspoken meaning — just the facts, ma’am. But I certainly can.
The nation’s main border policing agency put out a November 30 press release pointing out that in just one randomly selected time frame in just one of the Texas border’s overwhelmed sectors (Del Rio), during the third week of November, Border Patrol agents caught migrants from regions of the world bristling with Islamic terrorist organizations.
Two men from Syria were caught on November 23. One man was from Lebanon. Another hailed from Tajikistan. Still another arrived after a long journey from Uzbekistan. Six showed up from Eritrea, which sits in a dangerous northeast African neighborhood sharing borders with Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
“We encounter individuals from all over the world attempting to illegally enter our country,” Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Jason D. Owens was quoted as saying. “Our agents are focused and work hard to ensure that we detect, arrest, and identify anyone that enters our country in order to maintain safety of our communities.”
The agency noted that in just October, Del Rio Sector agents encountered 28,111 unauthorized migrants from more than 50 countries. In the just-ended fiscal year of 2021, the Del Rio Sector encountered migrants from 106 countries.
My first impulse was to screen-shot the press release, which I did before the White House could order it surgically removed as a political cancer that might spread through its immigration policy. There was recent precedent for that sort of damage control.
As I reported this Spring, an April 30 CBP press release proudly announced that CBP, in two separate incidents in Calexico, Calif., caught two Yemeni migrant men who were justifiably notable: They were both on the FBI’s terrorism watch list. One of them, the Yemeni found hiding a cell phone sim card in the sole of his shoe, was on the more rarified No Fly List.
The press release was removed within 24 hours, although it still resides on the internet archive Wayback Machine, because acknowledging a homeland security threat like infiltrating Islamic terrorists at a southern border that is spinning out of control would almost certainly have generated phosphorescent political heat on the whole White House approach to its immigration policy. Easier to pull the press release and hope no one in the media noticed it.
Conveniently, no major media noticed that Yemeni terrorist press release, either when it interestingly went up amid an escalating mass-migration crisis, or when it even more intriguingly was pulled down.
Filling in the Unmentioned Darien Gap and Terror Infiltration Threat
The new CBP press release in this taboo subject area conspicuously self-censors the national security meaning behind the surging international origins of illegal border-crossers these days. For instance, it makes no mention of how migrants from places like Uzbekistan, Syria, and Tajikistan can even reach the southern border.
As my book, America’s Covert Border War, details at length, they generally do it by flying to South America and then getting themselves smuggled through an 80-mile bottleneck stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap.
Although CBP did not explain in its November 30 press release how the migrants in question reached the southern border, the Center for Immigration Studies will next week. An expert panel on Tuesday, December 7, will focus on the heavily trammeled Darien Gap smuggling route through Colombia and into Panama. The panel will feature an Embera tribal leader who lives on Panama’s side of the Darien Gap with a front-row seat.
Understanding the importance of the Gap is key to any American immigration policy that would seek to plug it.
Neither did the new CBP press release mention why an American policy might seek to plug the Darien Gap.
The answer must be said out loud, even though it seems so obvious: Because people like the Yemeni terrorists discussed in the April press release — and Tajiks, Uzbeks, Syrians, Pakistanis, Somalis, Bangladeshis, Mauritanians, and many others from terrorism-plagues nations are coming through it all the time, reaching California, Arizona, and Texas. No one knows who most really are. America’s ability to learn whether they are friend or foe is no sure bet.
A worthwhile debate would center on whether U.S. policy should finally address the Darien Gap as a chokepoint where this kind of migration could be most easily stopped.
Another worthy debate should center on whether the United States should finally insist that illegal border crossing strangers of totally unknown backgrounds from places like Syria and Tajikistan should seek their asylum in any of the dozen or so other countries through which they pass — on both sides of the Darien Gap — long before they get to Del Rio, Texas.