Posted on August 3, 2004

Potential Terrorists Released Due To Lack Of Jail Space

Emma Perez-Treviño, Brownsville Herald (TX), Jul. 23

Middle Easterners with possible terrorist ties have been detained after entering the country from Mexico but released for lack of jail space, said U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

“It is true. It is very reliable information, from the horse’s mouth, and it’s happening all over the place,” Ortiz, D-Texas, told The Herald on Thursday.

“It’s very, very scary, and members (of Congress) know about this. We have contacted several agencies, and I have talked to some people, but I can’t say who.”

Ortiz’s comments come amid Thursday’s release of the 9/11 panel’s report into events leading to the deadliest attack on U.S. soil and as the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Transportation-Treasury Bill to stop the use of Mexican identification cards in this country.

Currently, matricula consulars are used by Mexican nationals to open bank accounts in the United States and obtain driver’s licenses in some states.

The amendment, submitted by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, will go before the full House in September.

Culberson said the cards present a danger to national security, pointing to the June 26, 2003, testimony of Steve McCraw, assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

“The ability of foreign nationals to use the matricula consular to create a well-documented, but fictitious, identity in the United States provides an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without triggering name-based watch lists that are disseminated to local police officers,” McCraw testified. “It also allows them to board planes without revealing their true identity. . . At least one individual of Middle Eastern descent has also been arrested in possession of the matricula consular card.”

Ortiz had not heard of the case that McCraw cited or that any potential terrorist had been detained with a matricula card.

“. . . It seems to me that this is just against Mexicans,” Ortiz said, “because (U.S. officials) are picking up a lot of (potential terrorists) and releasing them on their personal recognizance and they (the suspects) don’t return to their court dates, and they (U.S. officials) don’t know where they are going.”

Culberson’s spokesmen Tony Essalih and Jeff Morehouse told The Herald on Thursday that U.S. Attorney Michael T. Shelby of the Southern District of Texas told Culberson that several Middle Easterners have used Hispanic surnames to enter the country undetected.

“This was during a meeting in Houston May 25,” Essalih said.

The Middle Easterners are from Yemen, Essalih said.

Shelby is not issuing any statements, said Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Herrera of the Southern District of Texas, noting that the office is prohibited from confirming or denying any investigation.

“That is a federal rule,” Herrera said.

Culberson’s spokesmen said they didn’t know how many potential terrorists Shelby identified that have used Hispanic surnames to enter the country.

They said that the potential terrorists apparently entered through the U.S.-Mexico border and were detected in South Texas and as far north as Houston.

Essalih said he had not heard any reports that potential terrorists were being released due to lack of jail space.

He said, “It would be terrifying if that were the case.”