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Every Senator Should Read The Bensman Series From The San Antonio Express News

Tuesday, May 22, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The four part series I noted below is must reading for every senator considering amendments to the draft immigration bill which, at its unveiling, made no provision for treating illegal aliens from countries with known jihadist networks differently from Mexican or Central American immigrants.

Some amazing graphs from part 2:

Though most who cross America’s borders are economic migrants, the government has labeled some terrorists. Their ranks include:

Mahmoud Kourani, convicted in Detroit as a leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah. Using a visa obtained by bribing a Mexican official in Beirut, the Lebanese national sneaked over the Mexican border in 2001 in the trunk of a car.

Nabel Al-Marahb, a reputed al-Qaida operative who was No. 27 on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list in the months after 9-11, crossed the Canadian border in the sleeper cab of a long-haul truck.

Farida Goolam Mahammed, a South African woman captured in 2004 as she carried into the McAllen airport cash and clothes still wet from the Rio Grande. Though the government characterized her merely as a border jumper, U.S. sources now say she was a smuggler who ferried people with terrorist connections. One report credits her arrest with spurring a major international terror investigation that stopped an al-Qaida attack on New York.

The government has accused other border jumpers of connections to outlawed terrorist organizations, some that help al-Qaida, including reputed members of the deadly Tamil Tigers caught in California after crossing the Mexican border in 2005 on their way to Canada.

One U.S.-bound Pakistani apparently captured in Mexico drew such suspicion that he ended up in front of a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

“They are not all economic migrants,” said attorney Janice Kephart, who served as legal counsel for the 9-11 Commission and co-wrote its final staff report. “I do get frustrated when people who live in Washington or Illinois say we don’t have any evidence that terrorists are coming across. But there is evidence.”

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehension numbers, agents along both borders have caught more than 5,700 special-interest immigrants since 2001. But as many as 20,000 to 60,000 others are presumed to have slipped through, based on rule-of-thumb estimates typically used by homeland security agencies.

“You’d like to think at least you’re catching one out of 10,” McCraw said. “But that’s not good in baseball and it’s certainly not good in counterterrorism.”

There is much more to digest in these articles, including Mexico’s cooperation in halting the flow of “special aliens,” and details of the corrupt visas-for-cash operations run by some consulates in the middle east. This series is really newspaper journalism at its finest, and represents an extraordinary achievement that occured because of extraordinary effort.  Explains the paper in a note following part three:

To document the hidden world of special-interest aliens, San Antonio Express-News reporter Todd Bensman and photographer Jerry Lara traveled to Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; throughout Guatemala; the southern border state of Chiapas, Mexico; Brownsville and elsewhere along the Texas border; and Michigan. Bensman documented routes used by smugglers to move immigrants from Islamic countries, including a popular one from Syria to Texas traveled by Iraqi refugee Aamr Bahnan Boles.

The Express-News hired Arabic language interpreters in Syria, Jordan and Texas, where Boles was first interviewed extensively. Bensman obtained materials from overseas smuggling investigations and hundreds of daily intelligence summaries reflecting Texas border crossings. He interviewed U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials in both countries, and examined U.S. court records from a dozen federal smuggling prosecutions. Some dialogue and scenes described in this series were reconstructed based on interviews with Boles and, when possible, others who were present.

You can congratulate the reporter via e-mail at

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