Updates: Border Patrol today confirmed the report issuing this statement: “U.S. Border Patrol agents in Sonoita, Arizona, apprehended five Pakistani nationals and one Afghan national Monday. Agents also arrested two smugglers accompanying the group. As a standard procedure, agents processed the six individuals and checked their identities against numerous law enforcement and national security related databases. Records checks revealed no derogatory information about the individuals. The individuals are currently in federal custody.”
In other news: reports say 8 Syrians caught crossing U.S. from Mexican border Monday; 5 Syrians with stolen Greek passports caught in Honduras; DC Metro issues BOLO (Be On The Lookout) for bearded men behaving suspiciously on metro last weekend. No public indication any of those apprehended were connected to terrorist groups.
Agents with the U.S. Border Patrol are expressing frustration and anger after a group of men from Pakistan and Afghanistan was reportedly caught crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. this week. The agents say the incident was kept secret from them until they pressed their managers for information.
The group of citizens from the Mideast was reportedly captured after sneaking into Arizona on Monday, three days after the Paris attacks and four days after a double suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks in both cities.
The Border Patrol would not confirm the incident officially, and declined to provide information or comment when asked about it today. Several agents working in Arizona say they were not originally briefed on the arrests but heard about it from other agents. They say the case was not presented to them in their regular intelligence briefing, and that they only received bare bones information today when they pressed their managers.
"It's the kind of stuff you need to know," says one agent, who asked not to be identified. He said agents were upset that the information was being kept secret from them by their own agency.
According to those briefed on the incident, the group of five people from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan was captured near Patagonia, an Arizona town 18 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. They were apprehended by agents stationed at the Sonoita, Arizona Border Patrol. The group had been led across the border by two Mexican guides who were also detained. The Mexican guides were so worried about getting caught with the group that they reportedly broke into fisticuffs over who was at fault.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are well known strongholds for terrorist groups. Border Patrol agents and F.B.I. agents have long expressed fear that potential terrorists are exploiting the porous U.S.-Mexican border and lax enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
My calls today to Sonoita and Tucson Border Patrol offices today were referred to a public affairs office. That office said it would be back in touch when it had information for me, but did not provide any after eight hours.
"We received your request. We will contact you back once we have information for you," wrote the Tucson Sector Border Patrol Public Affairs Office in an email.
When asked if agents were on heightened alert in light of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, one said, "Oh yeah. I know it's coming."
Frustration levels inside the Border Patrol have reached a peak, say some agents, with concerns that they are often effectively kept from doing the job they were trained to do: stop illegal traffic from crossing the border.
"We have people from all over the world coming to the Mexican border and claiming asylum. Since they’re not from Mexico, we can’t send them back over," says one agent, speaking of performing his job on a daily basis. The agent spoke about his routine experience apprehending illegal immigrants.
"Since they have no criminal record in the United States, they are let into the country, and given a date to appear in court, usually months or years out. After they sign the paperwork, they’re free to go, and disappear. Because they have no criminal records, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] can’t go looking for them since they are not 'priorities.' Even if ICE encounters them later on, ICE still can’t arrest them if their criminal record isn’t serious."
"We see a lot of Somali’s, which...has a large Muslim population. In Nigeria, there is a huge contingent of Boko Haram, which is just a ruthless as ISIS. They have been slaughtering schools full of children and priests for years now. The truth is, anyone can get into this country and stay. It’s not possible that we don’t have any ISIS sympathizers here. It’s just too easy for them to get here."
None one of the agents who provided information for this report was aware of the current whereabouts of the group captured on Monday. They speculate that the F.B.I. may be interviewing them or taking custody.
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