WASHINGTON — Militants for the Islamic State have traveled to Mexico and are just miles from the United States. They plan to cross over the porous border and will “imminently” launch car bomb attacks. And the threat is so real that federal law enforcement officers have been placed at a heightened state of alert, and an American military base near the border has increased its security.
As the Obama administration and the American public have focused their attention on the Islamic State in recent weeks, conservative groups and leading Republicans have issued stark warnings like those that Islamic State and other extremists from Syria are planning to enter the country illegally from Mexico. But the Homeland Security Department, the FBI and lawmakers who represent areas near the border say there is no truth to the warnings.
“There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials said in a written statement, using an alternative acronym for the group.
Democrats say opponents of President Barack Obama are simply playing on concerns about terrorism as part of their attempt to portray Obama as having failed to secure the border against illegal immigration.
“There’s a longstanding history in this country of projecting whatever fears we have onto the border,” said Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who represents El Paso and other areas near the border. “In the absence of understanding the border, they insert their fears. Before it was Iran and al-Qaida. Now it’s ISIS. They just reach the conclusion that invasion is imminent, and it never is.”
At a congressional hearing last week, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., pushed back strongly against the testimony of Homeland Security Department officials and O’Rourke, saying they were ignoring a gathering threat.
“Wake up, America,” Duncan said before storming out of the hearing. “With a porous southern border, we have no idea who’s in our country.”
But counterterrorism officials say they are far more concerned that an Islamic State militant will enter the United States the same way millions of people do each year: legally, on a commercial flight. Their efforts have focused on the more than 2,000 Europeans and 100 Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight along extremist groups, nearly all of them crossing over its unprotected borders. Without markings in their passports to show that they traveled to Syria, American border authorities have few ways of determining where they were and stopping them from entering the country.