The police chief of a town in a violent border region is found decapitated, his head in his lap, hours after gunmen with Kalashnikov rifles killed the deputy police chief and his bodyguard in a nearby municipality.

Assassins kill the leading candidate for governor in a neighboring border state. Military and intelligence forces respond to a credible threat to blow up a dam that, if successful, could flood an area with 4 million residents.

Iraq? Afghanistan? No — Mexico in recent months, just across the Rio Grande from Texas. The police killings were in Nuevo Leon, the assassination in Tamaulipas, and the dam was at Falcon Lake, straddling the border between Tamaulipas and Starr County, Texas.

Too often, discussions about the border, including President Barack Obama’s address July 1, devolve into the passionate debate about immigration. That debate and the emotions it engenders tend to obscure a more fundamental issue: Our nation’s porous border is a threat to U.S. national security.

Migrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America who come here to pick crops, wash dishes and clean houses don’t represent a fifth column of foreign invaders. They are people looking for better lives, discouraged from seeking legal entry by an immigration system that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the powerful current created when the world’s wealthiest nation shares a 2,000-mile border with a developing nation.

But here’s an inescapable truth. The same routes and crossing points, the same coyotes and smugglers who manual laborers rely on to enter the United States can also be used by intruders with far less benign objectives.

The most obvious examples are the drug cartels battling each other and the Mexican government for control of the lucrative trafficking routes into the United States.

The armed groups that have turned Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, into a war zone — 200 people dead in only one week last month — have distribution networks that crisscross this country.

The cartels, their paramilitary enforcers and street gangs move illicit drugs north and cash and guns back south. In the multi-billion-dollar drug trade, the border is irrelevant. And there’s no reason to believe the people doing the beheadings and assassinations will indefinitely be solicitous about keeping violence on one side of an international boundary, as the alleged plot to blow up Falcon Dam suggests.

In May, the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement officials in Texas of the potential illegal entry from Mexico of a suspected member of the al-Shabaab terrorist group, an al-Qaida affiliate in Somalia.

Why would terrorists from Somalia or anywhere else choose to clandestinely enter the United States from Mexico? Because if millions of Mexican laborers can do it, so can they.

That’s the troubling fact at the heart of what the U.S. government calls “special interest aliens” — illegal immigrants from countries that pose a national security threat. Hundreds of them are apprehended in the United States each year. No one knows how many are being missed.

A recent report from the U.S. Southern Command obtained by the Washington Examiner raises a warning flag.

“Of particular concern is the smuggling of criminal aliens and gang members who pose public safety threats to communities throughout the border region and the country,” it cautions. “These individuals include hundreds of undocumented aliens from special interest countries, primarily China, but also Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan.”

People who wish to do harm to the United States can and are entering the country undetected. That ought to be the starting point of any national discussion about the border.

SOURCE

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