During a recent tele-town hall, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) claimed that border security could be compromised because the terrorist group Islamic State and Mexican drug cartels could collaborate to “expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism” and potentially attack his home state, audio recorded by the Arkansas Democrats revealed. As Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported, “some Republicans apparently believe they need to go to extraordinary lengths to conflate terrorism and illegal immigration into one giant, terrifying, hydra-headed threat to the country,” including suggesting that there is collaboration between two nefarious agencies. Cotton’s claim, then, goes beyond the standard fear-mongering talking point, which peaked in July when the conservative website WND claimed that Islamic jihadists could sneak the United States through the southern border.
A caller asked Cotton, the Republican Senate candidate in Arkansas, what he would do to secure the border. Cotton responded that he would build a border fence, a move he insists worked in San Diego, since terror groups could “infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.” Cotton slammed incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and the President for creating a “crisis” after promising or granting “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants, a situation that has led to them “refusing to secure our borders.”
The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico that have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism.
They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it’s time we got serious about it, and I’ll be serious about it in the United States Senate.
Though Arkansas is more than 820 miles away from the Mexican border, has a population about one-third the size of New York City, does not have direct international passenger flights, and most likely does not rank high on a terrorist target bucket list, that hasn’t stopped officials like Cotton from perpetuating the image that Islamic fundamentalists will infiltrate a southern border that they claim is insecure.
After WND made its claim, numerous officials have jumped on the chance to spin that message. There was Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) who was concerned “that because of the condition of the border, from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across, that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be.” There was also Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who wanted to secure the “porous” border “from ISIS infiltration. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) claimed that ISIS was running operations out of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott said over the summer that it was feasible for unaccompanied children who are arriving in waves to be “warriors” and “rise up against” Americans, while she agreed with her Tea Party guest that the terrorist group Hezbollah could train those children in Venezuela and other South American countries. Arizona House of Representative State Rep. Andy Tobin said that people should be worried that migrant border crossers are coming in from the Middle East. And recently, a Texas sheriff said that “Qur’an books” (a sacred book which Muslims hold as dear as the Bible to Christians, likely wouldn’t randomly toss into the desert brush) were found at the Mexican border.
But while officials are still trying to make the claim stick around (as well as claims of disease and Ebola), at least three Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials have dismissed allegations that ISIS members could infiltrate the country by land. If anything, John Wagner, assistant commissioner in the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Office of Field Operations, noted that, “the number of known watch-listed persons we are encountering on the Southwest border is minimal compared to commercial aviation. We’re talking tens versus thousands.”
The U.S. spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2012, more than every other federal law enforcement agency combined. The White House has also stated that the Border Patrol has doubled the number of agents from about 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 in 2011; that the DHS has “completed 649 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles planned,” and increased the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents along the southwest border.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) told a Fox News host Wednesday that at least ten ISIS fighters were caught in Texas trying to come across the border, but a DHS official shot down the claim in a statement, “The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground,” using another acronym for the Islamic State.