Border Fact Check

Separating Rhetoric from Reality

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Do terrorists use the U.S.-Mexico border to enter the United States?

“Just last year… if I remember correctly, there were 25,000 people that they were able to apprehend other than Mexicans. That includes Chinese, Middle Easterners. If you know Middle Easterners, they look Mexican or like a lot of people in South America, and they mix in. … And those people, their only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States. … They have found prayer rugs, they have found copies of the Koran [in the desert], so that tells you this is not just, you know, poor illegals that are trying to come to this country to find work. It’s bigger than that.”

—Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Arizona

In a 2011 interview currently making the rounds in the Arizona press, Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives on the Republican ticket in Arizona’s 3rd District, alleges that people of Middle Eastern descent attempt to blend in with Mexican migrants in order to enter the country and “cause harm to the United States.”

The Facts:

To start, Saucedo Mercer’s insinuation that all Middle Easterners and/or Muslims want to “cause harm to the United States” is offensively racist and plainly false.

On top of that, the facts completely contradict her claims that a large number of non-Mexican border crossers are would-be terrorists from countries hostile to the United States. According to the Arizona Daily Star, as of 2011,

The Border Patrol apprehended an average of 339 people from “special-interest countries” - those that warrant special handling based on terrorism risk factors - at the U.S.-Mexico border each year over the past six years, Homeland Security data show. That’s less than 1 percent each year of the total apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border, Homeland Security figures show.

None of the 2,039 people arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border in that span presented a credible terrorist threat, Homeland Security officials say.

Homeland Security monitors, analyzes and gathers intelligence about potential threats but at this time “does not have any credible information on terrorist groups operating along the Southwest border,” said department spokesman Matt Chandler.

As we’ve previously pointed out, the Department of State also recently determined that “No known international terrorist organization had an operational presence in Mexico and no terrorist group targeted U.S. citizens in or from Mexican territory.” (In fact, instead of crossing the land border with Mexico, alleged terrorists—including several of the September 11 hijackers—have entered the United States legally, on temporary visas, and stayed in the country after their visas expired.)

All of the evidence indicates that, contrary to candidate Saucedo Mercer’s comments, the U.S.-Mexico border is far from being a hot spot for international terrorist activity.

By Ana Goerdt