“Extra-Continental” Migrants throughout the Americas Marching and Clashing Their Way Toward New Biden Border
A Unique Migrant Class with National Security Implications
By Todd Bensman, Author of America’s Covert Border War, The Untold Story of the Nation’s Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration
Last week at a Peru-Brazil river border crossing, a US-bound migrant caravan of many hundreds went to war with militarized border police determined to enforce a coronavirus closure.
After the Peruvians repulsed repeated violent push-through attempts on Integration Bridge in the town of Inapari, both sides settled into a tense multi-day stand-off, the migrants negotiating for government trucks to carry them toward the US southern border.
Most of the 400 or so immigrants were not the Spanish-speaking kind familiar to Americans. These were from African nations such as the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leon, Senegal, and Haiti but also nations like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and quite probably, others of terrorism concern in the United States.
US homeland security professionals refer to all of them as “extra-continental” migrants because they have traveled vast distances.
What is very different about such migrants — especially from nations like Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan, among others in those regions — is that American officials view them as a heightened national security risk for hailing from areas brimming with terrorist organizations and atrocity-committing tribal militias.
Right now, untold thousands of extra-continental migrants — perhaps following in the earlier path of 11 Iranians caught at the Arizona border February 2 — are on the march throughout the Americas in caravans and in smaller groups. People like the 187 from Somalia, 182 from Syria, and 63 from Tunisia caught by Honduran authorities in December are feeling especially motivated by word that the US border is open under newly seated President Joe Biden.
The irresistibly attractive look of unobstructed entry holds implications for homeland security professionals, who will need to somehow determine — often with not even identifications as a start — whether the incoming are the persecutors or the persecuted, terrorists or their victims, have blood on their hands or are the bloodied.
“This is not merely an issue of Spanish-speaking Mexicans and Central Americans illegally entering the US but clearly is a much greater global threat when we understand where the flow emanates from and the direct threat that poses to our national security,” said James G. Conway, a former FBI attaché in Mexico City who launched programs after 9/11 to discern jihadists among migrants moving through Mexico. “Those who come from countries that have a significant presence of terrorist groups must be cleared through background checks and vetted. And yes, there are still international terrorists who want to bring harm to America and its people.”
A Clarion Call to Come Heard Very Far and Wide
“This is like a pressure cooker,” Walter Cotte, regional director of the Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent for the Americas and Caribbean told French media in August about bursting-at-seams Panamanian camps.
Pressure to advance built sharply even before Biden won the November election promising less-obstructed border entries and a deportation moratorium, manifesting as riots in Panama, Guyana, Suriname and Ecuador. Frustration, for instance, led to unrest in the government camp for 200 people in the small Panamanian village of La Penita, where up to 2,000 migrants stuck there set fire to facilities and damaged vehicles. Caravans began to form all over the Americas after the election, from Guayana to Paraguay to Chile, organized on social media networks.
With countries like Panama and Costa Rica now loosening their borders, the march is on in remote locations probably unfamiliar to most Americans. Like the Chilean town of Colchane on the border with Bolivia, where police have fought a losing battle against thousands of US-bound migrants since January. Local Chilean authorities noted last week that in January 3,600 foreigners had crossed irregularly through the Chile-Bolivia border, some ten times more than the previous year.
A February 18 Associated Press dispatch from Mexico reported alarming increases in migrant numbers trekking from Panama in “small, discreet groups.” The story quoted the priest in Tabasco state who runs a local migrant shelter saying 1,500 have flowed through in just the first six weeks of 2021, compared to 3,000 for all of 2020.
“We have a tremendous flow and there isn’t capacity,” Gabriel Romero told the AP. “The situation could get out of control. We need a dialogue with all of the authorities before this becomes chaos.”
Anticipating a rush from their south, Central American governments last week began coordinating a plan to counter “a possible wave of migration of Haitians, Cubans, Asians, and Africans who seek to reach the United States irregularly,” Noticias por El Mundo reports.
The main reason for all of this, now, according to AP?
“Some migrants have expressed hope of a friendlier reception from the new U.S. administration, or started moving when some borders were reopened.”
The Security Vetting Challenge
As described at length in America’s Covert Border War, significant homeland security programs were deployed many years ago and are in place to determine if at least extra-continentals from countries of terrorism concern are hiding terrorism backgrounds and intent.
One main prong of America’s covert border war flags border-crossing migrants from terrorism countries for intensive interviews and examination while they are in US detention to learn true hearts, minds and intent while collecting intelligence necessary for a second prong of the covert border war. That is to hunt down their smugglers in Latin America who bridge the Atlantic Ocean and bring their clients through to the southern border.
But even in normal times, the covert border war is imperfect at ferreting out good liars or those not in terrorism databases. That problem gets exacerbated during mass migration crises that collapse normal management processes. The covert border war vetting enterprises can get kicked off line entirely while migrants flow into the nation’s interior.
Though its caveat went little noticed, an October Department of Homeland Security Threat Assessment explicitly warned that terrorist organizations could take advantage of a migrant surge crisis the same report predicts to “facilitate the movement of affiliated persons toward the United States.”
The DHS assessment should stand as sufficient warning that the Biden administration handle extra-continentals with the extra vetting attention they require should the predicted migrant crisis swamp the system in 2021.