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Subcommittee Chair Pfluger: “The Chaos of the Southwest Border Could be Taken Advantage of By Anti-U.S. Regimes”

June 21, 2023

Subcommittee Chair Pfluger: “The Chaos of the Southwest Border Could be Taken Advantage of By Anti-U.S. Regimes”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) delivered the following opening remarks during a hearing to examine the threats posed to the U.S. homeland by malign nation-state actors in Central and South America.

Watch the full hearing on YouTube.

As prepared for delivery:

Today we are holding an important hearing on the threats posed by Nation-State actors like the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Iran, and Venezuela in Latin America to our homeland security. There is no doubt that we are facing a migration crisis caused by the administration’s policy decisions.

We are witnessing significant increases in encounters at the southwest border with individuals from countries of concern like the PRC and Russia. I am concerned that the chaos of the southwest border could be taken advantage of by anti-U.S. regimes. Meanwhile, the PRC and our foreign adversaries are expanding their spheres of influence in Latin America—essentially in our backyard.

As they grow their diplomatic, economic, and military activities in the region, there are clear implications for U.S. homeland security. Recent data released by the United States Customs and Border Protection shows a steep increase in encounters with foreign nationals from the PRC, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela, amongst others, at our southwest border.

For example, in the first seven months of Fiscal Year 2023, over 9,711 PRC nationals were encountered by U.S. Border Patrol along our southewest border, exponentially more than the previous three years.

A similar trend involves encounters with Russian citizens. In 2021, CBP reported just 4,103 encounters of Russian citizens along our southwest border; however, that number jumped to 21,763 in Fiscal Year 2022 and is already over 33,000 for the first seven months of Fiscal Year 2023.

I have heard directly from sheriffs in my district that they apprehended multiple individuals from the PRC who were deemed “high value targets” and were taken into custody by the FBI.

While aliens may have legitimate claims to asylum, the increased flow of nationals from adversarial countries is concerning as these individuals blend into the much larger wave of illegal aliens flooding across the southwest border, already topping 1.4 million illegal alien encounters through the first seven months of Fiscal Year 2023.

Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents at the southwest border are completely overwhelmed. There have been 1.5 million known gotaways at the southwest border since the start of this administration. This creates a gap in homeland security intelligence that malign nation-states could exploit to send nefarious actors into the United States. It is important that this Subcommittee fully understand the ways malign nation-state actors could take advantage of the wide-open southwest border.

However, the problems stretch further than that. There is no doubt that we are facing an array of security challenges in the region and by extension to U.S. homeland. In particular, the PRC has developed close economic and security ties with a number of Latin American countries, including Brazil and Venezuela.

For example, the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China offered approximately $137 billion to the region in loans to a multitude of sectors—with Venezuela as the most prolific beneficiary of PRC loans at roughly $60 billion. However, the PRC’s influence in the region goes beyond economic ties. It also includes military and security partnerships.

For example, in approximately a 10-year period, between 2009 and 2019, $615 million in weapons was sold to Venezuela by the PRC. The PRC’s increased influences in the region bolsters the CCP’s geopolitical goals, which also includes strengthening other authoritarian regimes, leading to significant challenges to U.S. influence in the region as well as security risks for the U.S. homeland.

Earlier this year, Melissa Dalton, the Pentagon’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs testified that the PRC and Russia “now pose more dangerous challenges to the safety and security of the U.S. homeland.”  They are both “already using non-kinetic means against our defense industrial base and mobilization systems to subvert our ability to project power.”

This transcends the egregious example of when the PRC entered our sovereign air space with a high-altitude balloon, which we know with certainty they intended to use to spy on sensitive U.S. military and critical infrastructure sites.

And then, just this month, the Biden administration confirmed the existence of a PRC-run electronic espionage facility in Cuba—roughly 100 miles from the United States—that would allow the CCP intelligence services to collect signals intelligence throughout the southeastern United States.

Less than 48 hours later an anonymous Biden administration official confirmed to Politico that the CCP has actually been using a secret facility in Cuba to spy on the United States since at least 2019.

My Republican colleagues and I are demanding answers on this latest nefarious action by the CCP from DHS Secretary Mayorkas and FBI Director Wray to ensure the homeland security response is robust and steadfast.

This activity once again displays the CCP’s willingness to use every tactic and technique to undermine U.S. sovereignty and shows that authoritarian regimes in Latin America can and will assist the CCP in attacking U.S. homeland security.

Additionally, Russia continues to demonstrate its intent and capability to conduct military and other strategic activities against the United State in the Western Hemisphere.

Russia’s influence in the region mainly comes from security ties—on which it has colluded with anti-U.S. authoritarian regimes, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. For example, Russia has assisted Venezuela with sanctions-evasion, using Russian state-controlled companies to transport Venezuelan oil.

Russia also uses the Wagner Group, a private military company to project power worldwide. The Wagner Group tries to undercut the United States, present itself as a mediator and security partner to anti-U.S. countries, and gain military access rights and economic opportunities. For example, they are training Venezuela’s armed forces.

Additionally, Iran plays a secondary role in the region. The recent docking of Iranian warships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil indicate Iran is looking to assert its power across the region.

Iran’s-backed militia, Hezbollah continues to have a presence in the region, with a transition from the tri-border area of Paraguay to operations in Venezuela.  Whether it is the PRC, Russia or Russia’s proxies, or Iran, it is vital that we understand the security challenges and threats posed by nation-state actors to U.S. homeland security and explore every avenue to address them head on. This morning, we have a distinguished panel of expert witnesses to discuss this important topic.