Accessibility links

Breaking News

Counter-Terrorists Worry About Illegal Immigration

President Bush spent part of this week in the southwestern United States, pushing immigration reform in a series of events along the U.S. border with Mexico. Among the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. are half a million fugitives from justice. That group has homeland security officials particularly concerned.

Just before dawn, U.S. immigration and custom agents gather in a parking lot outside Washington D.C. to begin searching for nine illegal immigrants -- all fugitives, suspected of violent crimes including attempted murder, armed robbery, stalking, and assault.

John Torres is an immigration agent. "It's a growing problem. Our officers are beating the streets every single day doing the best they can."

Some believe there are serious security implications for the U.S. Thousands of fugitive aliens come from countries where al-Qaida is active, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

Richard Clarke is a counter-terrorism analyst who worked in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. "Of the 17,000 people who are missing in the United States somewhere, some are from countries of concern, and could be known terrorists. We really have no way of knowing who they are."

This week, President Bush toured a border crossing in southern Texas, promoting his plan to allow immigrants into America as temporary guest workers. Mr. Bush says his proposal will allow immigration officers to focus on tracking down the troublemakers.

"Agents won't have to chase people coming here illegally to work. They will be able to chase criminals and drug traffickers and crooks," said the president.

Mr. Bush is also targeting a policy, derisively known as "catch and release." It allows illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico to be released after their arrest, because of a lack of holding space. Most of them, tens of thousands every year, never show up for their deportation hearings.

"When we catch somebody, don't release them,” Mr. Bush said. “Catch and release has been a long-standing policy of the federal government, and we're going to change that."

Some U.S. officials believe terrorists from the Middle East and South Asia may be taking advantage of the "catch and release" policy. But the vast majority of non-Mexicans arrested are from Brazil and Central America.