You can hardly read the newspaper these days without tripping across some reference to the dangerous nexus between terrorism and Somalia. American youth of Somali descent are being recruited to engage in jihad abroad. Al Shabaab, the most deadly Somali terrorist group, has entered into a strategic alliance with Al Qaida. Perhaps most terrifying of all, there are repeated reports of Somali extremists crossing our southern border and making their way into the United States.
In March 2010, Ahmed Muhammed Dhakane was indicted for his connections to international terrorist organizations. According to the indictment, Dhakane smuggled hundred of individuals into the United States, including several with connections to Somali terrorist organizations. In April 2010, a Pennsylvania man, Anthony Joseph Tracy, was arrested and indicted on charges of having smuggled 300 Somalis into the United States from Mexico. Intelligence reports indicate that an unspecified number of these individuals were members of Al Shabaab. On May 15, 2010, the federal government issued an intelligence alert asking law enforcement authorities in Texas to be on the alert for a man known only as “Muhammed Ali” who was suspected of attempting to enter the United States from Mexico. “Muhammed Ali” is a recruiter for Al Shabaab.
Most recently, there has been significant discussion of the ongoing hunt for 23 Somalis with ties to Al Shabaab apprehended in Mexico in January and then released by Mexican authorities. The identities of only sixteen of these individuals are known. The current whereabouts of all of them are a mystery and counterterrorism officials believe that the prospects for finding them aren’t good.
Maybe Homeland Security ought to try looking for them in Tacoma.
That’s one of the many places around the country where Somalis seeking entry to the country are housed.
The fact is that despite all the alarm about Al Shabaab and Somali terrorists trying to sneak into the country, a Somali seeking to enter the United States does not really have to sneak in or pay a smuggler to secure his entry. All he has to do is walk up to a border post and request asylum.
That is what increasing numbers of them are doing. Literally hundreds of Somalis every year request asylum at the border posts near San Diego alone.
Once a request for asylum is made, the individual making the request is brought into the United States and housed, at taxpayer expense, pending the scheduling of a hearing on the facts of his particular case. When that hearing is conducted, usually months later, the ability of the hearing examiner to evaluate the legitimacy of the claim to asylum or even the true identity of the individual making the request is extremely limited. Most of the individuals arriving at the border possess virtually no identification of any kind. What documentation they do possess is often obviously forged.
Despite this, there is a de facto presumption in favor of asylum claims. The majority of individuals who apply for asylum are admitted and granted legal status in the United States. Even those who are not formally granted asylum are, under current rules, not deported. They too remain in the United States.
The horrible lack of common sense that underlies this situation perhaps should come as no surprise. Our politicians and public officials talk endlessly of border security and keeping terrorists out of the country, while every year tens of thousands of ordinary Mexicans and Central Americans simply walk across our southern border and make their way into our largest cities.
Still, against the backdrop of the fears regarding Somali terrorist activity, a policy which mandates, in effect, that we accept any Somali that can make his or her way to a US border post is spectacularly self-destructive. Certainly, the vast majority of these individuals will prove to be men and women seeking new lives and fleeing a war-torn homeland. Among them just as certainly there will, ultimately, prove to be individuals who wish us harm and who will repay our naïveté with violence and terror. We need to close this loophole now and end the policy of allowing Somalis free access to the nation, or we need to accept that we are inviting our own destruction.
Charles Faddis served 20 years in the Central Intelligence Agency as an operations officer, holding positions as a department chief at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in Washington, D.C., and as a chief of station in the Middle East. He is the author of the new book “Willful Neglect” (March 2010, Lyons Press).