by Marilyn Stern
Middle East Forum Webinar
Todd Bensman is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, a Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and author of Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History, the 2023 follow-up to his earlier book, America’s Covert Border War: The Untold Story of the Nation’s Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration. Bensman spoke to a March 20th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the escalating threat to America by Muslim migrants on the U.S. terror watch list infiltrating from the southern border. The following is a summary of his comments:
Liberals say the threat is exaggerated, while Republicans insist it is dire and widespread. But “the truth is really that there is a threat issue that has been addressed by the U.S. government and the Homeland Security enterprise” since 9/11. The fact that the Biden administration decided in April 2022 to post “known or suspected terrorist crossings” (KST) on its enforcement statistics website indicates that the threat of terrorist infiltration isn’t exaggerated. The Customs and Border Patrol website (CPB.gov), which contains approximately five years’ worth of statistics, posted ninety-eight apprehensions of “terrorist crossings at the southern border” in fiscal year 2022. So far, the count for the first four months of fiscal year 2023 is sixty-nine, “so we are on track to beat 2022’s number in terms of terror watch listed migrants that are entering the country that are being apprehended.”
The unprecedented surge of illegals infiltrating the U.S. includes an increasing number from a variety of Muslim countries, especially illegals on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Data Set (TSDS) watch list. Liberals dismiss the problem because infiltrators were apprehended, but they ignore the fact that there are 1.5 million “got-aways” the border patrol did not apprehend who are now in the U.S. interior, which has been a “deportation free zone” for the past two years. While information about the “got-aways” is scant, Bensman investigated further, and his findings expose the mounting concerns of security professionals tasked with protecting the border.
Bensman’s current book, Overrun, investigates infiltration cases based on “confidential but not classified” internal government documents leaked by security professionals angered about the administration’s failed southern border policy. There is the case of Lebanese born Venezuelan, Issam Bazzi, “flagged on a terror watch list,” who illegally crossed into the U.S. in 2021 at the time that border crossings rose precipitously. The FBI’s investigation discovered that Bazzi was involved in terror activities and recommended detention and deportation. Because Bazzi was overweight, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) intervened and ordered him released “on grounds that he was at risk of catching Covid.” Bensman’s investigation found that Bazzi was released into the Detroit area, has not been apprehended, and is pursuing an asylum claim.
Bensman’s earlier book, America’s Covert War, described the U.S. protocol in dealing with apprehended migrants from Muslim majority countries. The FBI conducts an in-depth personal interview, and if the migrant does not clear a security check, the next step is deportation to the home country, or a third country, based on agreements with the U.S. However, the mass migration crisis currently underway has placed immense pressure on America’s “covert border war” defenses, now overwhelmed by the migrant swarm, which our country’s enemies are exploiting to their advantage by penetrating porous U.S. borders.
Another case involves a Yemeni on the U.S. terror watch list, Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, who was about to cross into Texas when the Mexican authorities picked him up based on their access to the U.S. watch list. After an FBI investigation, Mexican authorities scheduled Ahmed for deportation to Yemen. The officers tasked with transporting Ahmed left him at the Transit Airport, and – far from being deported to Yemen – he instead made his way back to Mexico. Mexican authorities again apprehended him, but this time the Americans did not arrive, and the Mexicans released him. Bensman received the leaked BOLO (be on the lookout) alert for Ahmed as a “CBP category five” (designation for “terrorist organization affiliate”) “got-away.” Ahmed is still at large.
There is currently a prosecution underway in Ohio of Shihab Ahmed Shihab, a former member of al-Qaeda (AQ) who flew into the U.S. as an asylum seeker years ago. Shihab was indicted and arrested based on his plot to “import” four AQ/ISIS operatives to assassinate former President George W. Bush in Texas. Court records reveal that Shihab had already succeeded in bringing in two Hezbollah members. While there is “a lot of mystery still shrouded on that case,” it is chilling to consider the got-aways America’s border professionals have been unable to apprehend. There are 150 countries represented by the swell at the U.S. border, including migrants from “every country of the Middle East, Islamic countries of Northern Africa and South Asia, Pakistan, and all ‘stan’ countries.”
Migrant numbers are so high that Bensman discovered a “Muslim-only” shelter that was opened in May 2022 in Tijuana by the Latina Muslim Foundation of San Diego. The shelter receives immigrants “from all over the Islamic world” and contains a mosque, serves Halal food, and has “separate facilities for men and women.” It is located “two blocks from the wall” and, under the Biden administration’s policy, the foundation provides the migrants “the ability to cross to get humanitarian parole and to be crossed, pre-legalized, through the ports of entry.” The center’s “selling point” is that they “conduct full security” background checks, but the Somalis, Syrians, and Afghan migrants at the shelter are from countries where background information is either unavailable or non-existent. Moreover, other migrants hail from Uzbekistan and Chechnya, and the Russians are “not doing background checks for us.”
The problem is that this administration chose to decouple itself completely from enforcing any of those laws. And the administration has decided that it is going to make up its own rules and systems as it goes along.
Bensman’s charge that the covert war is “faltering” is borne out by his video interview with Sonia Garcia, president of the foundation and the shelter’s director. Garcia said the Biden administration has never contacted her about the people passing through her center. She has taken it upon herself to report cases of Islamic extremists/terrorists to the Mexican authorities who have removed the migrants in question from the facility.
U.S. border agents and officers are overwhelmed and undermined by the Biden administration’s policies that almost guarantee “entry and stay” in the U.S. The Trump administration’s procedures, such as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, reduced the crossings into the U.S. But the Biden administration has sought to discontinue these measures, and the Mexican government opposes restarting them. Talking points used by politicians to avoid the issue revolve around “the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” but by punting, they deflect from the real issue. The U.S. immigration system is adequately equipped to defend, detain, and deport threats, fully supported by laws that are in place. “The problem is that this administration chose to decouple itself completely from enforcing any of those laws. And the administration has decided that it is going to make up its own rules and systems as it goes along.”
With a divided Congress, the burden falls on litigation in the hope that the courts will rule against the administration’s abrogation of its duty to protect its citizens. “And that’s ultimately what it’s about, that you have to just simply abide by the law. If an administration abides by the laws, it should deter the vast majority of this.”
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.