Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star, August 14, 2004
Thousands of non-Mexican illegal border crossers from more than 150 countries have been caught trying to get into the United States this fiscal year, a federal report released by a Colorado congressman shows.
The apprehension rates of illegal entrants the Border Patrol classifies as Other Than Mexican (OTMs) include people from countries the United States says sponsor terrorism. There were seven Iranians, five Syrians and eight North Koreans. There were 122 people from Pakistan, a country of “elevated concern,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
About 41,700 non-Mexican illegal entrants were apprehended along the Mexico and Canada borders from Oct. 1 to June 30, according to data provided by Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is a vocal critic of immigration policy.
Of those OTM apprehensions, 132 people came from countries that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has identified as representing an “elevated national-security concern” since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The Department of Homeland Security does not make its list of non-Mexican apprehensions broken down by nationality public, citing national-security concerns. But the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector says it apprehended 6,140 non-Mexican entrants through Wednesday, said Rob Griffin, an agency spokesman.
That’s just more than 1 percent of the 418,000 Mexican nationals apprehended here since Oct. 1, the start of the agency’s fiscal year.
Tancredo said he released the more detailed accounting of non-Mexican illegal entrants to strengthen his contention that foreign nationals from countries that might pose a national-security risk are being attracted to routes along the porous U.S. border that traditionally were used mostly by Mexican nationals.
“Thirty-five months past 9/11 and we’re just finding out about this?” Tancredo said. “How many hundreds of thousands of people have come into the country illegally?”
He concedes that some of the non-Mexican illegal entrants are coming to the United States in search of a better life. But, he says, others might have sinister intentions.
Border Patrol officials declined to comment on Tancredo’s report but say a new expanded authority will let Border Patrol agents quickly remove non-Mexican illegal entrants.
Under the expedited removal process, scheduled to begin in the Tucson sector in two weeks, illegal entrants not from Mexico or Canada caught within 100 miles of the border who have been in the United States less than 14 days will be sent home without having to first appear before a judge. Illegal entrants deported under the new program would be flown home.
Immigration officials have said there is no estimate of how much the more frequent flights will cost.
The new policy is designed to get those entrants out of the country instead of having them released from custody to await a hearing.
In the past 16 months about 28,000 foreign nationals were released from custody on the promise of returning for a hearing in immigration court. Ninety percent did not come back.
Agents in the Tucson and Laredo, Texas, sectors will have a two-day course in expedited removal next week, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mario Villarreal.
Locally, there are high hopes the expedited removal process will cut down on the number of non-Mexican entrants as well as number of immigration detention cases that never make it to court, said Griffin, of the Border Patrol.
A United Nations report coordinated with Homeland Security showed Border Patrol agents running into problems when they instituted a similar policy in the nation’s airports last year. The U.N. found that some agents did not understand asylum law and in some instances, physically restrained people who were trying to plead for it.
The United Nations has requested a meeting with Homeland Security officials to better gauge the training agents will receive when the removal process begins between the ports of entry in Southern Arizona, said Joung-ah Ghedini, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees.