Texas Governor Rick Perry warned a packed DC audience at DC’s Heritage Foundation headquarters Thursday that without swift action, terrorists from groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will “slip across our un-secure border.” In a speech linking the immigration reform debate to the current crisis in Iraq, Perry claimed there is “a very real possibility” that terrorists have already entered the country by crossing the desert from Mexico.
Perry cited only one anecdote to back up this claim: the recent detention at the border of a Ukrainian national. But she wasn’t a terrorist. She was the wife of a US marine.
Still, he maintained, the possibility is there. “I think there’s obvious, great concern about the border not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across,” he said. “The cartels, as vicious and brutal as they are, might be the least of our worries. What other bad actors are coming here, or for that matter, have arrived already? Where did they come from? What did they bring with them?”
Yet, as Perry himself admitted, there is “no clear evidence” of anyone affiliated with terrorism ever crossing the US/Mexico border. Nearly every attack or failed plot over the past decade has been carried out by a US citizen—like accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—or those who came on legal visas, like the Al Qaeda operatives on 9/11. And the cross-border terrorist plans that have been discovered have come from our northern border.
The US State Department’s own terrorism assessment last year noted that “there were no known operational cells of either al-Qa’ida or Hizballah in the hemisphere.” They added: “There are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, and there is no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory.”
But Perry continues to cite this fear as the basis for his belief that neither Congress or the President should pursue any type of immigration reform until the US Mexico border is “secured” using the Border Patrol, the National Guard, and 24-hour surveillance drones.
“Until the federal government meets that duty and secures that border, all talk of immigration reform is pointless,” he said.
Perry’s DC remarks—which swung from immigration to the degenerating conflict in Iraq and his predictions for November’s midterm elections—comes just before a trip to the early primary state of New Hampshire—another in a series of moves that hint at another run for the White House in 2016.
UPDATE: Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told CNN Friday that he’s seen nothing to back up Perry’s claim. “I’ve seen no indication that they are coming across the border with Mexico,” Kirby said on New Day. “We have no information that leads us to believe that.”