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Human Smuggler Sentenced for Bringing Illegal Immigrants from Terrorist ‘Hot Spots’ to US

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Illegal immigration is always a controversial topic, but the issue takes on a more sinister tone when associated with terrorism. Although the number of individuals smuggled across the Southwest border who are associated in some way with terrorism is very small, it duly raises alarms when these individuals are apprehended.

On October 17, a federal judge sentenced the mastermind of a smuggling ring who brought dozens of illegal immigrants from terrorist hot spots into the U.S. to 31 months in prison, rejecting the man’s pleas for leniency and saying he could have ended up getting Americans killed.

Smuggler Helped Many Illegal Immigrants to Enter US from Mexico

According to the Washington Times, Sharafat Ali Khan denied being the main smuggler of the ring, which investigators said helped more than 100 illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan enter the U.S. from Mexico. The Times learned that one of these immigrants had been flagged on the terrorist no-fly list. He had family ties to the Taliban and had been implicated in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. or Canada.

Illegal immigrants hailing from countries associated in some way with terrorism were formerly known by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as special interest aliens, or SIAs. At one point, there were 31 countries on this list, but the list was eliminated several years ago when the countries of Turkey and Israel — both considered U.S. allies – were somehow included.

These immigrants often embark on journeys of several months through multiple countries in Europe and South America in order to reach the Southwest border. Also, they typically pay many times the normal smuggling fee to be brought across by smugglers who specialize in working with SIAs.

Several Countries Associated with Terrorism Have Protected Status from DHS

Further complicating matters is the fact that several countries associated with terrorism are also on the DHS Temporary Protected Status (TPS) list. According to DHS, “The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

Countries may be designated as eligible for TPS in the case of ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or “other extraordinary and temporary conditions.” Currently, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are on the TPS list.

TPS List Designed to Protect Current, Law-Abiding Residents from Deportation

To be eligible for deferral from deportation, an applicant from the TPS country must have been continuously and physically present in the United States since the date the TPS status was conferred upon their country. TPS doesn’t protect new illegal immigrants from these countries, but prevents those people already in the United States from being deported. Individuals are also ineligible for TPS if they have a criminal history or are otherwise found inadmissible as an immigrant under the Immigration and Nationality Act statutes.

With regards to Khan’s activities, the judge said, “You don’t know whether [immigrants are] seeking a better life or whether they’re trying to get in here to engage in terrorism.” After serving his sentence, Khan was scheduled to be deported back to Pakistan. Khan said through an interpreter, “I made a mistake. I broke the American law.”

However, he expressed disbelief that he was the only person to have been apprehended from what he said was an extensive network involving dozens of people across 10 countries. “Perhaps my misfortune is that I am a poor Pakistani,” he said.

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