A Texas lawmaker called President Donald Trump “an idiot” on Sunday for suggesting that an attack on a mosque in Egypt that left more than 300 dead demonstrated the need for a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico.
“What an idiot… Does [President Trump] foolishly think a border wall would have prevented 9/11, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs?” Representative Filemón Vela tweeted, referencing terror attacks committed in the U.S.
On Friday, Trump had renewed his call for a wall after 305 people were killed in an attack on a Sufi mosque in Egypt’s northern Sinai region. It was the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history.
“We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will,” Trump wrote. “Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.”
Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the 2,000 mile Mexican-U.S. border was among the defining policies of his candidacy. The president and his backers argue that the wall would help keep illegal immigrants and terrorists out of the country.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn told Breitbart in August, 2016, that Islamic extremists were cutting deals with Mexican drug cartels to enter the U.S. illegally via Mexico.
Trump’s chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015 that “the relative ease with which human smugglers moved tens of thousands of people to our nation’s doorstep,” shows that “these smuggling routes are a potential vulnerability to our homeland.”
“As I stated last year, terrorist organizations could seek to leverage those same smuggling routes to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to our citizens or even bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States.”
But experts have argued that the probability of terrorists accessing the States across its southern border is remote.
“I want to say right up front that the cost would be extraordinarily high, but the likelihood is extraordinarily low,” Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars told The Texas Tribune in December, 2016. “My short answer in that context would be no, the Texas-Mexico border is not particularly vulnerable to terrorism.”
According to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, 1,004 people from the 35 countries deemed to be of “special interest” with active terrorist groups were detained at the Mexican-U.S. border in the first nine months of 2016. They included Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. All but 172 of these were from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and just nine from countries regarded as state sponsors of terrorism.
Another report suggests terror suspects have entered the country across the Mexican border.
According to a Texas Department of Public Safety report obtained by the Houston Chronicle in 2015, 143 individuals on terror watchlists had crossed the southern U.S. border between November 2013 and July 2014, before being arrested by U.S. law enforcement.
Immigrants who entered the country illegally have not been responsible for any U.S. terror attacks. Those who have committed attacks in the U.S. have been either second generation immigrants, like Omar Mateen, responsible for the 2016 Pulse nightclub attack in Florida, or entered the country legally, like Sayfullo Saipov, the man alleged to responsible for October’s New York attack.
The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has called for extremists to exploit the U.S. border with Mexico, with an article in a 2015 edition of a propaganda magazine outlining a plot to purchase a nuclear device from a corrupt Pakistani official, transport it via drug smuggling routes to South America, and into the U.S. across the Mexican border.
Kevin McAleenan, former deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was quizzed about the article by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas during a congressional hearing in September.
“We’ve seen aspirational discussions,” he said, acknowledging the claims in the ISIS magazine article. But he added that U.S. officials and their counterparts in Mexico were “not seeing a ton of credible, validated intelligence that suggests that ISIS is trying to exploit specific routes [into the US].”
Some officials believe the administration is concerned about the wrong border.
According to an FBI report obtained by the Daily Beast in February, more suspected terrorists are trying to enter the U.S. across its largely unpatrolled northern border with Canada than from the south.
“We are looking the wrong direction,” said a senior DHS official familiar with the data told the website. “Not to say that Mexico isn’t a problem, but the real bad guys aren’t coming from there—at least not yet.”
Representative Vela is a longstanding critic of Trump’s wall, and in October called for an amendment to a border security bill compelling the administration to “provide the members of [the House Homeland Security] Committee the clearest picture, to date, of the conflicting and absurd vision the President has for his wall.”