Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to share worry about the presence of the terrorist group Hezbollah in Central America and the threat posed to “the safety and well-being of the American people.”
The senators asked to be briefed by officials about the possibility that terrorists may attempt to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border and the nature of the government’s efforts to combat narcoterrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering by Hezbollah.
Their renewed interest comes after Secretary Pompeo’s confirmed during a Feb. 6 interview with Fox Business that terrorist groups, particularly with ties to Iran, are active in the increasingly chaotic country of Venezuela.
“People don’t recognize that Hezbollah has active cells – the Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America,” he said in early February.
While critics of strong border control mock the notion of terrorists infiltrating the U.S. via the southern border, Cruz and Grassley, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, view effective border security as the one stone to kill the two birds – illegal immigration and international terrorism.
“Effective border security not only addresses the ongoing problem of illegal immigration, but also prevents the cross-border movement of Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) and known or suspected terrorists,” they wrote. “Should the U.S. government not address these concerns head-on, it would be an absolute abdication of our primary responsibility to provide for the common defense.”
The letter, which was also sent to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, seeks answers to questions about what the Obama administration knew about any terrorist cross-border threats and what steps are being taken now to prevent nefarious forces from Russia, China, Cuba, and Iran infiltrating refugee populations coming from Mexico and Central America.
According to a 2017 Politico report, the Obama administration was aware that vulnerabilities along the southwest border exposed the U.S. to the potential illegal crossing of terrorists. The idea that terrorists would seek to exploit Venezuela’s devolving economic and political situation is not isolated to the administration.
Annette Idler, a senior fellow at Oxford University’s Pembroke College, warned in a 2017 Washington Post editorial that the disintegrating political environment in Venezuela might be viewed as an opening for drug and human traffickers, as well as international terrorist organizations. “Venezuela is a strategic transit zone for drugs, arms and ammunition, gasoline smuggling and human trafficking,” she wrote. “Terrorists also may take advantage of the crisis. The U.S. government sanctioned Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami earlier this year for his purported involvement in the drug business. El Aissami allegedly has ties to Hezbollah and was accused of issuing fraudulent passports to individuals from Middle Eastern countries. However truthful these accusations, they indicate the potential for Venezuela to become a safe haven — and new gateway — for unwelcome guests in the Americas.”
Even if Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro is removed or leaves office, there is no guarantee that Hezbollah would follow.
“Whatever the benefits of replacing the current Venezuelan regime with Washington’s preferred alternative, there’s reason to doubt that it would change the country’s problematic relationship with the terrorist group,” warned Foreign Policy’s Colin Clarke after Pompeo’s remarks.
The media will continue to scoff at and ignore the threats approaching the border, but that will matter little as long as those in positions to affect efforts to secure our border heed the call to action.