Next Steps in Immigration and National Security: The Global Response

Next Steps in Immigration and National Security: The Global Response
(James Carafano, March 29, 2017)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

Dr. James Jay Carafano is the Heritage Foundation’s Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies. After the presidential election until the inauguration, he served as a leader of President-elect Trump’s transition team at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. From 2012 to 2014, Dr. Carafano served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council convened by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

A graduate of West Point, Dr. Caravan is a 25-year Army veteran and holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University as well as a master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College. Before retiring, he was executive editor of Joint Force Quarterly, the Defense Department’s premiere professional military journal.

Dr. Carafano’s most recent publication is an e-book, Surviving the End, which addresses emergency preparedness. He also authored Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World (Texas A&M University Press, 2012), a survey of the revolutionary impact of the Internet age on national security. He co-authored a textbook, Homeland Security (McGraw-Hill, second edition 2012), designed as a practical introduction to everyday life in the era of terrorism. He is co-author with Paul Rosenzweig of Winning the Long WarLessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom (2005). The authors, first to coin the term “the long war,” argue that a successful strategy requires a balance of prudent military and security measures, continued economic growth, zealous protection of civil liberties and prevailing in the “war of ideas” against terrorist ideologies.


Robert R. Reilly:


Dr. James Carafano is The Heritage Foundation‚Äôs Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies. Interestingly enough, he was a leader of the branding team, the transition team for the office of President-Elect Trump at the Department of Homeland Security, an institution he knows well. From 2012-2014, Dr. Carafano served on a Homeland Security Advisory council convened by the Secretary of that Department. Dr. Carafano was a career officer.

He’s a West Point graduate, a place where he has also taught. [He’s a] 25-year Army veteran. He has a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and a PhD from Georgetown, as well as a Master’s degree in strategic- a Master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College.

His most recent publication is Surviving the End, which addresses emergency preparedness. If you survive it, it’s not the end, is it, Jim? I mean, I don’t mean to quibble with you on that. That’s okay. He also authored Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World, a survey of the revolutionary impact of the internet age on national security, and he co-authored a textbook, Homeland Security designed as a practical introduction to life in the era of terrorism. He’s co-authored with Paul Rosenzweig of Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom, which coined the term ‘the long war’, which we’ve all become accustomed to use in this long war.

As you know, tonight, he’s about- by the way, I wanted to say, of course, Jim is a wonderful writer and analyst. I was just reading his recent piece from National Review, which was also picked up by The Daily Signal, that pertains to his topic tonight. It is called “Assimilation, Not ‚ÄėIntegration,‚Äô Prevents Young Immigrants from Turning to Terrorism.” I recommend that article to you. His topic tonight is, “Next Steps in Immigration and National Security: The Global Response.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. Carafano.

James Carafano:


What I would like to do is touch on three things and then kind of throw it open and I didn’t actually think that I would ever have a career as a Trump-splainer, but apparently that’s my job these days, so I am happy to kind of talk about how the administration is settling in from my perspective and kind of what they’re doing or planning on doing and how things are shaping up, so I am happy to kind of talk about that because apparently that’s all people want to talk about these days.

We were in Fiji, right? Fiji is the end of the Earth, right? Because when you get there all you can do is start to come back and we were in a cab and a cab driver goes, “What is it with Trump? What’s his problem?” And were like, “Dude, we’re in Fiji. What- Why do you care? I mean, this is-,” so, you know, you can’t get away from it anywhere, but-

So I want to talk about three things. I want to offer up three propositions and then explain what I really mean, so I don’t think border security is really a terrorist-national security problem, I do not think immigration is really a terrorist-national security problem, and I do not think refugees are really a terrorist-national security problem. So why do I say that and does that mean I do not care about any of those things and doing them right? And the answer is no, actually I care a lot.

The Border

Start with the border and oftentimes since 9/11 when we frame the issue about border security – and we are really talking about the southern border – people say we have to secure our border because terrorists might walk across that and we have a lot of concerns at the southern border, but actually, we have not seen a tremendous amount of verified activity.

Essentially, what we have seen is terrorists try to come to the United States and you pick a way that somebody can try and come here and a terrorist has tried that, whether it is being smuggled in a shipping container or trying to traipse across a border or get a visa or anything else, right? So if your answer is well, we have to close that off, otherwise a terrorist might come here, then if you follow that logic, nobody could ever come to the United States.

We have actually known this for a long time and it is not even a post-9/11 phenomenon. If you look at the report that the 9/11 commission did, not the 9/11 report which everybody reads, which is the bestseller. But if you look at the supplemental report, which they did, which I think is more correctly framed, which is terrorist travel, how do terrorists travel, they did a very, very good job of kind of documenting how terrorists traveled up to 9/11. And the answer was lots of diverse, different ways. And what we have seen post-9/11 is exactly the same: lots of diverse, different ways of trying to travel because always looking for where is the weak spot, where to do this. And there is no constant. It is constantly evolving and changing and everything else.

There are lots of good reasons though, whether you are worried about terrorists traipsing across the U.S. southern border, why we ought to secure the southern border, and the primary driver of insecurity and danger on the southern border remains the criminal cartels. They feed everything.

You do not like illegal immigration? Blame the terrorist cartels because they are the engine that fuels that. We have this image in our head of kind of people walking up to the border and walking across. What really happens is you walk up to the river and grandma goes to the local cartel guy, and she pays him whatever, $5,000 for permission to cross the river. And then when you get there you pay some more, so the cartels are the vast economic engine that are driving a lot of that.

The other problem really is kind of just stupid because essentially the large part of traffic that we are seeing now is not people trying to illegally race across the border, they are people that essentially walk up to a point of entry and say I am a refugee, I am claiming asylum. Essentially, it is a policy, an interpretation of the law by the Obama administration, which basically says why are you paying somebody $10,000 when you can just walk up to the border and as long as you can claim you are a child or a family, we will let you in. We have a lot of stupid policy that is fueling it, but regardless of just the human migration, the cartels drive everything.

When I first started talking about this stuff when I came to Heritage fifteen years ago, I said this is a $40 billion a year industry. After the recession I said they are the only business that did not ask for TARP money. Today, the cartels have transformed and it is an $80 billion a year industry and it is growing. And it is even not just us anymore.

People said well, let us just legalize drugs and have amnesty and the cartels will go away, and that is so not true because they have created so many different venues for fundraising. There is a tremendously powerful pipeline now that goes through North Africa, taking drugs into Western Europe, and taking arms from South Asia into Mexico.

So like any good company that has a lot of prophet to plow back into it – there is not much difference between Google and the cartels, right? They are diversifying to kind of secure their income, so this is a major, massively powerful thing that is the number one threat to the border.

Taking down the cartels is the number one most important thing. To this administration’s credit, they are actually doing several things that the last administration did not. One is they are not stupid. I worked in the State Department Transition Team up to the election, and from the election to the inauguration I worked on the Department of Homeland Security Transition Team.

It was really interesting doing two different departments because they were both screwed up, but they were both screwed up in different ways. In the Department of State that Department is largely screwed up because under the eight years under Obama they added a massive amount of programs which were designed to do things that Obama thought were fun, but actually were not terribly useful for the hardcore interests of statecraft. So there I think you have a massive kind of structural issue in terms of programs and how you are spending money and wiring diagrams and everything else, so it is how the place is put together. That is the problem.

In DHS, you had exactly a different kind of problem. It was not DHS per se, it is that they were operating under a bunch of policies which were actually designed to make it impossible for them to do their job. So in many ways, fixing DHS, particularly in the immigration and border security issues has been a lot easier because it has just been stop being stupid, stop having incredibly weird interpretations of the refugee law that is actually encouraging people to flood into the country rather than discouraging them from risking their lives and destabilizing countries. So just adapting a much more sensible approach to the border I think is the right answer, and the other thing is a comprehensive approach to the border.

One of the problems is not just Obama, but Bush. They could always say, well, we are making progress because they would look at a place [and say], oh, look, it has gotten better here, right? Well, I can show you twenty years of that, right? As a matter of fact, we have a reporter that is going down to El Paso, which is now rated one of the safest cities in America. Well, how did that happen?

Well, the answer is simple. The bad guys just moved on because that is what bad guys do, right? So, when you have an area of the border that gets so intolerably bad, the political pressure of the federal and state [levels lead to] people just going in there. And what happens is what the cartels do is they fight back, they push back, then it is pretty clear that it is just easy to make money someplace else. And then they just kind of leave, right? So El Paso has quieted down, but the cartels moved elsewhere. Twenty years ago, I could have walked into Ju√°rez, and have a great afternoon, and buy a pi√Īata, and everything was fine. A number of years ago, I could walk into Ju√°rez, and you would never see me again, right, because it was the most violent place on earth.

Now, it is a little quieter. Why is that? It is because the smuggling routes move to where it is easiest to make money. If you do not actually interdict them across the operating space, right, then you never disrupt the model. Forcing them to change their business practices, preventing them in a sense from delivering their product, whether it is people, guns, money, or drugs, that crimps the cartels. Addressing security across the border comprehensively in a way in which their business practices just cannot keep up is the right answer, so actually enforce the laws, comprehensively address it across the border.

And then the third component is actually working with the Mexicans. When you put aside the kind of bad rhetoric back and forth on both sides, this administration actually does want to work with Mexico. Mexico actually has a vested interest in this because much of the illegal migration we are seeing right now is not starting in Mexico, it is actually starting in Central America, and it is coming through Mexico. And why that is bad is it is creating additional stress on the Mexicans, and it is also feeding more cartels into the money, so it is a struggle for them. Mexico’s problem is not that we are building a wall. Mexico’s problem is it has a crappy economy, it has a lot of corruption, it has a lot of public safety issues, and the only answer to that is a better Mexico.

And this is an administration that actually is not interested in walling off Mexico or destroying Mexico, it wants Mexico to be a better partner in the hemisphere. So, while the public rhetoric is bad, I think behind the scenes there is actually interest on both sides, within the limits of what is going to happen with the elections in Mexico, about doing things in the U.S.-Mexican relationship that are actually constructive and positive for both.

So, when I say I do not worry about terrorists at the border, it is a way that they could come here, but like dealing with everything else, the answer is a better border. So, whether we worry about terrorists or not, we need a better border, and the only way we are going to get a better border is if we are better at addressing the end-to-end problem, which takes me to I do not worry about immigration, I do not worry about it domestically.

So one of the things we do at The Heritage Foundation is we have a database of every known Islamist plot aimed at the United States since 9/11. It is a good story how this came about. [Does] anybody know Mike Frank? Mike Frank used to be at Heritage. Mike Frank came to me in the hall one day. He was a VP, and I was not at that time, and he says, “How many terrorist attacks have there been since 9/11?”

So, this was just like a couple years after 9/11, and I thought, oh, Mike, what a stupid question. Of course, I would not say that because he was a Vice President, right? But in my head, I am going, this is stupid, because I am the homeland security guy. I deal with this stuff every day. And I am like I know all of this. I do not know, maybe eleven. Everyone remembers Richard Reid, right? It was right after 9/11, and there were a couple of other yahoos. And I said I do not know, maybe eleven. He goes, “I think that would be interesting, right? We should do a paper on that. People should know that. I do not think people know that.”

Since Mike was a Vice President rather than saying, Mike, do not make work for me, just go away, dude, I said, ‘Ah, Mike, great idea, let me get right on that’ because I figured, well, this is not hard, I will just go back and have my research interns go through the thing. And actually, they came back, and they surprised me because it was actually like seventeen. So, there actually were Islamist plots and these are just publicly known plots, obviously not stuff that was covertly thwarted or the CIA killed [someone], but stuff that we know because there is a court or a police record where we can document that there was an actual plot that was thwarted in one way or another, so I thought man, that is actually more than I thought. Mike is not a dumb guy after all.

But I was a little nervous because we are going to publish this report, and then somebody is going to go oh, your statistics are off or whatever and everything. But at the time since it was the Bush administration, actually, there were people in the Justice Department who would return my phone call. I called the counterterrorism guy at the FBI, and I said, hey, we just did this study on Islamist terror plots since 9/11. Can we look at your [list] and compare it to your list because I do not want to put out something that is incredible, and he looks at me (through the phone) and he goes, you have a list? Can you fax me your list? And I am like, you do not have a list? You are the FBI.

And every time there was a new plot, we would periodically update it to the point where, I do not know if you have noticed it, but the number of Islamist terror plots aimed at the United States in the last eight years has skyrocketed. It has grown dramatically since 2010, which was right around the time that Obama had declared that we had won the War on Terror, so we actually just created an interactive, online database where we keep the data, and you can go on our website at and tap into it. It is great. It tells you [what] is the plot, where they, [the suspects], came from, all kinds of interesting things. The Indian Embassy recently came to us and said, hey, do you realize how many of these plots actually have a Pakistan connection?

See the rest of his talk…