The emails started coming in the early morning hours – some forwarded, and some cut and pasted for me to read. Every one of my colleagues asked, “Did you read this?” or “Do you think this is true?” The subject in question was a report posted on the Judicial Watch website that stated it was in contact with sources, including Mexican federal police, that claimed that ISIS had set up terrorist camps in a section of west Juarez called Anapra.
The report says that Mexican officials had found evidence, including Arabic documents, plans of Fort Bliss and Muslim prayer rugs. These officials also assert that Mexican smugglers are helping to transport ISIS terrorists in northern Mexico, through border crossings such as Santa Teresa, New Mexico, and remote places such as Fort Hancock, Texas. The source states that these specific areas are being traversed by ISIS because of their “understaffed municipal and county police forces, and the relative safe havens the areas provide for the unchecked large-scale drug smuggling that was already ongoing.”
Despite the fact that the sources were unnamed and no specific evidence was presented in the report, it spread rapidly through social media. Very quickly, the U.S. State Department issued a communiqué refuting the report stating, “U.S. authorities have worked closely with Mexican officials to investigate the allegation and both countries have determined the claim to be unfounded.” From time to time, false reports of terrorist activity on the U.S.-Mexico border crop up, cause widespread concern and then are found to be untrue. This one is particularly frustrating because it is targeted at the El Paso, Texas-Santa Teresa, New Mexico region. I live in Santa Teresa and always tell my colleagues that there is probably no place on the U.S.-Mexico border where so many people carry badges and guns – the feeling of security provided by Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol, state police officials and local agents is everywhere.
The reason the majority of these reports appear falls into three general categories. Social media is full of sensationalists trying to get people to read their National Enquirer-type of journalism. There are people who get a thrill and a sense of pride thinking that a phony story they create generates so much coverage.
There are other people who view Mexico with suspicion and use false reports to stir up animosity in those inclined to view that country as a problem, rather than as a positive. Elements of the anti-North American Free Trade Agreement in the U.S. have used similar techniques to paint it in a negative light and to question why the U.S. would pursue stronger trade relations with Mexico.
The last reason, and probably the most relevant in this most recent case, is the fact that spreading false claims of terrorists operating camps in Mexico, within a rock’s throw of the U.S. border, can be used as ammunition by interests promoting tighter border security. What better way to convince people that more law enforcement personnel and fences are needed on the border than to take ISIS, the highest profile terrorist group in the world, and put it at a major entrance to the U.S.? Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation, appears to be taking this angle, in spite of its irresponsible nature.
And the stakes are huge. According to an op-ed by Texas State Senator Jose Rodriguez, the Texas Legislature is currently proposing $500 million in the Texas House and $800 million in the Senate for border security – this out of a total Department of Public Safety budget of nearly $2 billion. In 2010, the Texas DPS budget was $239 million. There is a lot of money in play for companies that will contract with state and federal governments in order to provide security, intelligence and construction services.
There are people who believe that Mexican officials or criminals can be influenced to work with terrorist groups, either for the money or to satisfy some type of hatred for the U.S. For decades, this has proven untrue. U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials work together to monitor illegal activities along the border. And, more importantly, aiding anti-U.S. terrorists is not logical for Mexico’s legal and illegal interests. Mexico depends heavily on trade with the U.S. to fuel its economy. Therefore, Mexican government officials would not want to see cross-border trade heavily restricted with layers of scrutiny that lead to delays.
Nor does working with terrorists behoove Mexican drug and criminal interests. Does it make sense to take money to help terrorists, and then have U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials crack down on the border and step up efforts to go after illicit activities, resulting in a curtailing of your operations?
It is not out of the question that terrorists could look at the border as a portal to reach U.S. interests. However, this threat is mitigated by the fact that Mexico and the U.S. need stability on the border to achieve their own interests. The economies of Mexico and the U.S. have a symbiotic relationship that depends on openness and good communication. Each country needs to view the other as an ally. The stronger trade, political and social relationships that the two countries have, the more successful they will be in dealing with terrorist threats, should they occur in North America.
Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.