Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke from the Nixon Center published a journal article recently entitled “The Quantitative Analysis of Terrorism and Immigration: An Initial Exploration.” The topic is an important one for border security strategy formation and priority setting, because too often such efforts fail to isolate whether and how investments address homeland security mission needs vs. other missions such as counter-illegal immigration and counter-narcotics (as I discussed in this post back in February).
The full article is only available if one pays for it, but the authors post their data set on the Nixon Center website and summarize their findings in the paragraph below:
This article uses immigration and other biographical data to refute much of the conventional wisdom about the relationship between terrorism and immigration. Using a database created from the biographical data of 373 terrorists, we have established a number of significant findings. Over forty percent of our database is made up of Western Nationals. Second, despite widespread alarms raised over terrorist infiltration from Mexico, we found no terrorist presence in Mexico and no terrorists who entered the U.S. from Mexico. Third, we found a sizeable terrorist presence in Canada and a number of Canadian-based terrorists who have entered the U.S.
The findings above seem to suggest that the U.S. government should redirect resources to the northern border, and not be overly obsessed with the US-Mexico border. The US-Canada border is certainly an area of concern, and needs more resources (particularly in the areas of intelligence and law enforcement cooperation), but I would hesitate to conclude that the US-Mexico border poses a minimal risk by contrast. Take a look at this paragraph from a 2004 House Homeland Security Committee minority staff report (page 28 of the PDF), which lists people detained at the US southern border from countries of interest (COI’s):
The staff obtained a partial list of COI apprehensions for fiscal year 2004 for the Southern Border which included foreign nationals from Afghanistan (16), Egypt (18), Kazakhstan (2), Kuwait (2), Indonesia (19), Iran (13), Iraq (10), Lebanon (13), Pakistan (109), Saudi Arabia (7), Somalia (5), Sudan (6), Syria (10), Tajikistan (3), Turkey (26), Uzbekistan (13) and Yemen (3). These figures are partial and do not reflect the total numbers of COIs apprehended.
Undoubtedly many of these individuals were economically-motivated illegal immigrants, but it’s hard to believe that all of them were, given everything we know about the terrorist threat. We need to be careful to isolate homeland security interests from other interests in our debate over border security, but we should also remain focused on the fact that the Southern border presents a real vulnerability in our system of protection.