(CNSNews.com) - The concern about potential terrorists crossing into the United States from Mexico is nothing new, although Democrats and liberal media outlets were downplaying the Trump administration's concern ahead of Trump's planned address to the nation Tuesday night.
The Department of Homeland Security says most “Known or Suspected Terrorists" (or "KSTs"), the individuals on terrorist watchlists, attempt to come here by airplane.
But as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen noted in a Jan. 7 report, "The number of terror-watchlisted individuals encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years. The exact number is sensitive...But I am sure all Americans would agree that even one terrorist reaching our borders is one too many."
Meanwhile, thousands of Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) -- a different category than KSTs -- have been apprehended at the Southwest border.
Vice President Pence and others in the Trump administration have noted in recent days that around 3,000 Special Interest Aliens were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in the last fiscal year.
SIAs are not necessarily terrorists, but their travel patterns indicate a "nexus to terrorism" that may pose a national security risk. "Often these are individuals who have obtained false documents, or used smugglers to evade security across multiple countries," DHS said in a report posted on Monday.
At a minimum, these Special Interest Aliens require heightened screening and further investigation.
In November 2015, the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a field hearing in his home state that Mexican drug cartels were smuggling Special Interest Aliens into the U.S.
"In recent months, we’ve seen Special Interest Aliens from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries pay Mexican nationals to smuggle them into the United States. No one crosses the border without these cartels’ permission, indicating their clear complicity in smuggling these Special Interest Aliens into the country," McCain said.
Seven months later, on June 24, 2016, then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a memo, saying: “This Department is doing much to identify and address Special Interest Aliens ('SIAs') apprehended at our borders. As we all appreciate, SIAs may consist of those who are potential national security threats to our homeland. Thus, the need for continued vigilance in this particular area.”
Johnson directed his managers to bring “the full resources of the Department to bear in a coordinated manner on the issues of SIAs.” He ordered DHS to form an “SIA Joint Action Group” to “develop a consolidated action plan” to collect intelligence and “identify and interdict SIAs of national security concern who attempt to enter the United States.”
President Trump tweeted on Sunday that "99% of our illegal Border crossings will end, crime in our Country will go way down and we will save billions of dollars a year" with a "properly planned and constructed Wall."
Trump insists there is a national security crisis at the border that demands bigger and higher barriers.
On Tuesday, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) agreed that "we have a problem with a broken immigration system and border security."
Coons called for greater investments in “border security,” not necessarily a wall; but he also warned Trump not to declare a national security emergency at the border -- a move that could allow the U.S. military to build Trump's long-promised wall.
"What I unfortunately hear from President Trump all the time...is an attempt to create the mistaken impression that we face a flood of terrorists across an open southern border, and that Democrats somehow welcome or support that. None of that is accurate."
Coons said at legal ports of entry, "we have a problem. We have not invested enough in securing those ports of entry, and that's where the vast majority of folks with some criminal background have passed into the United States. We should do that -- there's bipartisan support for that," Coons said.
"The idea that there are thousands of potential or real terrorists flooding across the desert between the United States and Mexico, in Arizona, for example, or Texas is just not accurate," Coons added.
In September 2018, the U.S. State Department released a report saying that at the end of 2017, "there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States. The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to potential terrorist transit, (emphasis added) although terrorist groups likely seek other means of trying to enter the United States."
As CNSNews.com reported some years ago, then-National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told the El Paso Times in August 2007 that terrorists were coming across the Southwest border, although not "in great numbers."
“There are some cases?" the reporter asked McConnell.
"There are some," McConnell said. "And would they use it as a path, given it was available to them? In time they will."
In February 2005, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate intelligence committee that in 2004, U.S. law enforcement "had some success in uncovering individuals providing material support to Hizballah."
Mueller testified: "In Detroit, Mahmoud Youssef Kourani was indicted in the Eastern District of Michigan on one count of Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Hizballah. Kourani [from Lebanon] was already in custody for entering the country illegally through Mexico and was involved in fundraising activities on behalf of Hizballah."
Kourani illegally crossed into the U.S. in the trunk of a car, although records do not say if the car came through a land port of entry.
Janice L. Kephart, a member of the 9/11 Commission's border security team, told a House Judiciary subcommittee in June 2006:
"In November 2003, a federal grand jury indicted Kourani on charges of conspiring to provide material support to Hizballah, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The indictment alleges that Kourani was a "member, fighter, recruiter, and fundraiser for Hizballah who received specialized training in radical Shiite fundamentalism, weaponry, spy craft, and counterintelligence in Lebanon and Iraq." It also claims that Kourani recruited and raised money for Hizballah while in Lebanon. Kourani pled guilty to significant terrorism charges in April 2005."