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Is ISIS a Real Threat to the Texas Border?

Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway/U.S. Air Force
U.S. Army soldiers in the Qarah Cham village in Iraq, March 27, 2007.

Texans are still talking about Gov. Rick Perry's statements this week on the growing threat posed by the Islamic State terror group, known by the acronym ISIS.

Gov. Perry told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that "ISIS or other terrorists" could have crossed into the U.S. through the Mexican border. "I think there is a very real possibility that they may have already used that," Perry said. 

ISIS, born during the Syrian civil war, has in just a few years morphed into a formidable foe in both Syria and Iraq. The group has taken over large swaths of territory, including military bases. It's terrorized local communities. And this week, ISIS outraged Americans with the gruesome, recorded murder of American freelance journalist Jonathan Foley.
The militant group said the killing was in retaliation for recent U.S. air strikes in Iraq. Now that the video has been authenticated by the FBI, the White House has pledged an intensification of air strikes. The Defense Secretary has even warned Americans to "be prepared for everything."

But does that include thinking of ISIS as a threat to U.S. soil? Texas Standard host David Brown spoke to Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Austin intelligence firm Stratfor. Stewart says that while the southern border of the United States is indeed porous, the more likely point of infiltration would be from the north, through Canada.

"It actually makes sense if you look at demographics," he says. There are large Muslim populations that live in major cities in Quebec and Ontario, and a "very, very, very small percentage become radicalized. … But because of the large population, small percentage, it poses more of a threat than Mexico, where there is virtually no Muslim population at all, and certainly very, very few within the U.S. border."

Stewart, who has worked with the U.S. government and Texas Department of Public Safety as a consultant on terrorism issues, says he's more concerned with homegrown threats. "Ahmed Ajaj, he had lived in Texas and actually he was very good friends with another … jihadist who was later connected with the East Africa embassy bombing plots," Stewart says.

Stewart says it's impossible to hermetically seal any border; consider the Berlin Wall or Israel's fortifications. So how can Texas protect its borders? 

"Basically what we see happening is that as we've increased border walls and border security in the West, it's shifting the migratory routes more and more toward the east. We're seeing a decline in California and Arizona. But we're seeing a pretty big increases in the Rio Grande Valley."



Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.
David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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