There is growing concern in the U.S. over terrorists crossing America’s southern border and entering the country illegally, according to Pinal County, Arizona, Sheriff Mark Lamb. And after Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Lamb said some Americans asked, “Should we be concerned about Hamas coming in across our borders?”
But the reality, according to Lamb, is “they’re already here. The devil’s come in the back door. And now it’s a matter of whether we can identify who might pose a threat to America before they pose a threat to us.”
In fiscal year 2023, Customs and Border Protection encountered 736 illegal aliens who were listed on the U.S. Terrorist Screening Database, also referred to as the terrorist watchlist, including both at ports of entry and between the ports, according to CBP data.
Pinal County is about the same size as the state of Connecticut and is located 80 miles from the border of Mexico. The county’s Anti-Smuggling Unit and Aviation Unit are encountering illegal aliens daily, Lamb told The Daily Signal during a recent interview.
Lamb’s Anti-Smuggling Unit officers are the “last line of defense” to catch human and drug smugglers, he said, “before they get into Phoenix and ultimately spread throughout the country.”
From 2016 to 2020, Lamb said his office was “able to really work hand-in-hand with the Trump administration.”
“On the federal level, we had countless visits to the White House, we had a lot of meetings and phone calls with the [Department of Homeland Security] and [Homeland Security Investigations] and all of our partners at [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” he said.
“There was so much work working in conjunction to fight this problem,” he said of his time serving as sheriff during the Trump administration, “which is why ultimately, because of local law enforcement and federal law enforcement working together, you saw the lowest number of apprehensions we had seen in decades.”
In 2020, the final full fiscal year of the Trump administration, CBP encountered 646,822 illegal aliens on America’s northern and southern borders. In fiscal year 2023, over 3.2 million illegal aliens were encountered on the nation’s borders, a record high.
The increase of illegal aliens crossing the southern border and traveling through Pinal County has creating financial and staffing challenges for Lamb’s office, he said. But he added that the men and women who work for the sheriff’s office “are not of the sort that raises the white flag because the problem is becoming overwhelming.”
The Anti-Smuggling Unit exists to interdict human and drug smugglers who have successfully crossed the border illegally and are usually bound for Phoenix.
The cartels “contract” drivers to pick illegal aliens up at the border and drive them into the interior of the U.S., Deputy Sheriff Mark Terry, who serves on the Anti-Smuggling Unit, told The Daily Signal during a ride-along.
The cartels “go on social media, and they’ll basically put a job offering a certain amount of money to just take people from point A to point B,” Terry said. “That money can go for between $500 per person to $1,000 per person.”
Drug smuggling used to be the biggest issue the unit faced, but now, according to Detective Shawn Wilson, “there’s hardly any marijuana or drugs, and it’s mainly human smuggling.”
Lamb said illegal aliens from Mexico and Guatemala are the primary groups crossing the border into Pinal County, but just over 200 miles west in Yuma County, Arizona, officials there may encounter illegal aliens from over 140 different countries in a single month.
Already in fiscal year 2024, which began Oct. 1, more than 4,000 Chinese nationals have been encountered on America’s southern border. In the same time period, CBP has encountered nearly 2,000 Russian nationals and over 1,200 people from Turkey.
Fox News reported in October that Border Patrol has encountered 72,823 “special interest aliens” on America’s borders over the past two years—many from the Middle East. A special interest alien is a government term used to refer to an illegal alien from a nation that either promotes terrorist activity, harbors terrorists, or poses a possible security threat to the U.S.
Data obtained by Fox and “confirmed by multiple CBP [Customs and Border Protection] sources … which reflects apprehensions between ports of entry between Oct. 2021 and Oct. 2023, shows that agents encountered 6,386 nationals from Afghanistan in that period, as well as 3,153 from Egypt, 659 from Iran, and 538 from Syria,” according to the outlet.
But “Border Patrol doesn’t actually see everybody that comes across,” Lamb said, “especially not when they’re processing 6,000 to 10,000 people a day. The cartels are savvy to this, and they know where to push people through that they don’t get caught.”
Lamb said he is confident that the border can be secured and the flow of illegal aliens entering the country can be stopped if the right policies are put in place, but the challenge, according to the sheriff, is finding and removing those who are living in the country illegally.
“Now, we have to deal with the amount—the millions of people that have come in over the last two and a half years—of identifying them, removing them from this country, getting Congress and [the] Senate to figure out a comprehensive immigration plan. The list goes on and on. This is not a simple fix,” Lamb said.
Ultimately, the sheriff said it is the job of the federal government to secure the border, citing Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution.
“So, Joe Biden, do your job,” Lamb said. “And [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas, do your job. Secure our southern border and protect the American people and start putting America first and Americans first.”
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Author: Virginia Allen