[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
One of the incessant mantras we hear from right-wingers demanding we "secure the border" -- particularly the Minuteman types and their media enablers -- is that the need to do became incredibly important after 9/11, because Islamist terrorists were certain to be crossing into the United States through the desert.
That's certainly what we've been hearing constantly at Fox News and its many onscreen nativists, perhaps most notably Michelle Malkin. Remember how Glenn Beck tried to stir up a panic over the finding of a book on Iranian martyrs out in the desert -- which just happened to be an English translation? It even inspired Rep. Trent Franks to proclaim: "If terrorists ever come across our border with nuclear weapons... they (could) hold an entire city hostage ... This book is a grave reminder of the mindset and intent of the indescribably dangerous enemy we face."
And then there are the politicians who've used the claim to attack President Obama, such as wingnut Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County: ""If the majority of regular illegal immigrants can sneak into America, what does this say about the ability of terrorist sleeper cells?"
Well, as we've been saying about this supposed threat for some time now: They're barking up the wrong tree:
A turning political tide has renewed fears that raged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - that terrorists will sneak into the country across the U.S.-Mexico border.That's pretty much what we said awhile back:
Nobody disputes that's possible, but analysts and government officials say terrorists plotting to kill Americans are more likely to use other routes into the country, if they're not here already.
It's much more common for people convicted in the U.S. of crimes connected to international terrorism to have been U.S. citizens or legal residents, or come into the country on visas.
"There is no serious evidence that the U.S.-Mexico border is a significant threat from terrorism," said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank based in New York.
Claims of terrorist threats on the Southwest border distract legislators and policymakers from addressing long-term solutions to drug smuggling and illegal immigration, said Tom Barry, senior analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington.
"It's politically motivated," Barry said, "playing on that sense of fear that certain people are susceptible to."
Meanwhile, if terrorists really want to sneak into the country, they'll likely do it the way they do traditionally: forge papers and come in through the front gate with visas. That's how the 9/11 terrorists came in, and it's fairly simple and easy for them -- unlike, say, paying large sums to drug lords to sneak you over in a highly dangerous illegal crossing in the remote backcountry, which is how nativists like Malkin seem to imagine the terrorists are sneaking in.The idea that it's possible to completely secure the border by physical means is a fantasy anyway. You defeat terrorism with intelligence -- not stupidity.
Moreover, if Malkin wants to worry about terrorists sneaking over our borders, she'd be better off keeping an eye on the Canadian border. After all, the only known case of a terrorist caught bringing materiel over the border -- the 1999 Ahmed Ressam incident -- happened in Washington state, on the ferryboat from Canada. A quantitative analysis of terrorist threats to the U.S. found that there was "no terrorist presence in Mexico and no terrorists who entered the U.S. from Mexico"; but there was in fact "a sizeable terrorist presence in Canada and a number of Canadian-based terrorists who have entered the U.S."