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ICYMI: “Safe Assumption” China, Russia, Other Adversaries Want to Exploit Southwest Border Crisis

June 21, 2023

ICYMI: “Safe Assumption” China, Russia, Other Adversaries Want to Exploit Southwest Border Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence, led by Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX), continued the Committee’s full-scale investigation into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ dereliction of duty at the Southwest border by examining the threats posed to the U.S. homeland by malign nation-state actors in Latin America. Witness testimony for the hearing was provided by Elaine K. Dezenski, the Senior Director of the Center on Economic and Financial Power, Christopher Hernandez-Roy, the Deputy Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Jessica Brandt, the Policy Director of the Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative. In the hearing, Members received confirmation that malign nation-state actors, specifically China and Russia, could be empowered to take advantage of the crisis at the Southwest border, which continues to leave the U.S. vulnerable to national security threats. Witnesses testified that the historic migrant influx and unprecedented number of gotaways at the Southwest border under Secretary Mayorkas could allow individuals on the terrorist watch list, as well as fentanyl and other deadly drugs, to be smuggled into the country undetected.

WATCH: Chair Pfluger Details How the CCP Contributes to America’s Fentanyl Epidemic Using the Southern Border

 In his opening line of questioning, Chairman Pfluger highlighted the malign influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including its ability to launder the precursor chemicals of fentanyl through Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), and the increasing encounters of illegal aliens connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the Southwest border:

“When we look at the fentanyl issue, and understanding we had a hearing recently, we examine the relationship between Mexican TCOs and Chinese crime syndicates and how these relationships enabled the flow of fentanyl. Do you believe that the PRC is using America’s fentanyl crisis as a ‘gray zone tactic’?”

Ms. Dezenski answered:

“At a minimum, there is passive engagement on the part of the PRC. They are well aware of the fentanyl challenge and they’re not doing much to help us stop that. Coordination from previous years has pretty much disappeared, even though there’s a mound of evidence about the role of Chinese money laundering networks and manufacturers of precursor chemicals. So, it’s hard to understand why we can’t engage more specifically on that issue, except that I think it’s being viewed by the PRC as a strategic weapon against our country.”

Chairman Pfluger continued:

“There’s no question in my mind that the PRC is exploiting the crisis at our Southern border. It was reported yesterday that in this fiscal year, 125 people have entered this country— apprehended, that’s not gotaways—that have matched to the terrorist watch list. Is the PRC exploiting the crisis on our Southern border for their own personal gain?”

Ms. Dezenski concluded:

“I think we should assume that any vulnerabilities at our Southern border are open for authoritarian influence of many kinds. I think that’s a safe assumption that if the gaps are there, then those who are working against us are going to use them to their advantage.”

 WATCH: Rep. D’Esposito: It’s No Secret That Authoritarian Regimes Relish the Opportunity to Create Challenges for the U.S.

Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) questioned witnesses on the numerous ways U.S. adversaries can work to smuggle terrorists, criminals, drugs, and illegal weapons into the country for their own political gain:

“It’s no secret that authoritarian regimes relish in the opportunity to shine a spotlight and even encourage challenges for the United States of America. How might authoritarian regimes including Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, and the PRC, take advantage of the current border crisis, created by Joe Biden and Secretary Mayorkas, that our nation is experiencing?”

Mr. Hernandez-Roy answered:

“[To] just encourage migration from their own countries by cracking down on their populations, sending more people, creating more chaos, sowing more division within the United States on how to effectively respond—that is one way they’re clearly doing it. The other way, presumably, which I’ve provided an example of in the Venezuelan context and one of my colleagues has said it’s a distinct possibility, is they can be taking advantage of the massive amounts of people—2.4 million interventions last year. Within that space of 2.4 million people, you can try to get people that are undesirable, that are going to work for the interests of these regimes, into the United States. So, I think that’s a vulnerability. […] It’s a distinct possibility that the United States needs to be taking seriously.”

Ms. Dezenski added:

“As we see increased engagement in places like Venezuela, with Iran, Russia, we should be mindful of the potential that local populations may become part of extremist movements, and that could be fueled by this increasing engagement from authoritarian interests in these countries. How do we relate that to what’s happening at the Southwest border? […] With a massive inflow of people, we have the needle in the haystack problem again to try to figure out who those extremists might be. We have an identity management problem at the border. Somehow, we need to figure that out because it’s going to become more difficult. As we’re trying to manage an influx of legitimate economic migrants and political migrants from a place like Venezuela, how do we know if we’re allowing for extremist threats to come into the country?”

Mr. D’Esposito continued:

“What are your thoughts on the CCP and the fact that there have been stories that they would embed assets into larger groups of nationals [who are] making the journey from China to Mexico or other areas along our Southwest border?”

Mr. Hernandez-Roy answered:

I have no direct information on that, but I go back to the example that has happened in other cases. […] Venezuela has been known, publicly, to have sold passports to Hezbollah operatives [and] to bring people out of Syria as well with Venezuelan passports. So that’s another potential vulnerability; people from that part of the region using Venezuelan passports. Where are they going?”

WATCH: Rep. Crane Highlights the Dangers Posed by the Historic Number of Gotaways at the Southwest Border

Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ) discussed the threats posed by the unprecedented number of known ‘gotaways’ at the Southwest border as adversarial nation-state actors work to spread their malign influence:

“In 2021, CBP reported 4,103 encounters of Russian citizens along our Southwest border. It continues to increase. Following the start of the war in Ukraine, this number jumped from 21,763 in 2022, and then in 2023, it rose again to 33,000. Now let’s go to China; in the first three months of 2023, we saw 9,711 individuals coming from China encountered at our Southern border. That obviously doesn’t count the number of gotaways, which we can’t count, but it’s substantially more. […] Does it concern anybody on the panel, knowing the current state of our Southern border, to see these numbers increasing from the very countries that we’re talking about?”

Mr. Hernandez-Roy answered, in part:

“It is a concern of mine, given my experience within the region and what other dictatorships have done in the region to infiltrate spies into neighboring allies.”

Mr. Crane continued:

“Do you guys think that either China or Russia might be smart enough to figure out that our Southern border is pretty porous, and even our own president while he was a candidate said if you want to come to the United States, come.”

Ms. Dezenski concluded:

“Yes, it is a concern. When the vulnerabilities are known, they can be exploited. As the immigration flow continues to grow, it becomes a more difficult challenge to figure out the very small number of people within a very large number coming across the border that are actually a security interest and concern.”