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Illegal immigration and border control, A lesson to learn from India

What Happened to Border Control?

 By Dr. Richard Benkin  Monday, November 17, 2008

imageEven before the US economic crisis pushed all other issues out of the recent Presidential election, an issue that many thought would be a dominant one mysteriously dropped out of the public dialogue:  illegal immigration and border control.  Not only is that curious but dangerous as well.  Most of the Democratic leaders who will try to shape US policy over the next four years have stated their preference for the sort of “comprehensive” immigration reform that a massive popular action defeated in the Senate last year.  During the primaries, candidate Barack Obama charged the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement with “terrorizing” people when they crack down on illegal immigrants.  The subsequent silence about this during the campaign, has given Obama and his allies a sense of entitlement to affect their agenda even though it is at odds with the sentiments of most Americans.  In an August 2008 Rasmussen poll, 69 percent of Americans said that border enforcement is more important than legalizing aliens and only 14 percent thought the government is doing enough to secure the borders.  The survey also showed that 56 percent of Americans favor an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform with no path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

“Enforcement of existing laws is the Number 1, Number 2, and Number 3 priority for immigration reform among Americans”, said Scott Rasmussen.

If anything, sentiments like these have hardened in response to new economic realities.  If the crisis does not end quickly—and no one seems to think it will—conflict between “illegals” and citizens likely will become more intense.  The argument that illegal aliens take jobs Americans refuse to take will be even less compelling for the radicals’ open borders policy.  Already, according to an ABC news report, more English-speaking citizens are competing for jobs previously held by English-impaired citizens.

Earlier this year, I traveled along India’s borders with Nepal and Bangladesh.  The former is an open border, which allows free movement and transportation of goods without so much as an inspection.  The latter is merely out of control.  Conditions there could very well be a cautionary tale of what the future might look like for us if our new leaders follow an open borders agenda and provide amnesty for people who broke the law and became squatters in the United States.

Proponents of this policy have alleged that it lets the United States act as a “safety valve” to relieve the pressure on Mexico’s economy and prevent economic catastrophe, if not outright revolution.  Economic problems in Bangladesh and Nepal make Mexico’s seem minor.  Bangladesh is the world’s poster child for poverty; and when I was there, I saw a reality much worse than the poster.  Nepal’s economy is even worse.  While, according to the World Bank, Mexico’s per capital income was $8240 in 2007; Bangladesh’s was $430 and Nepal’s was $260.  Both countries also had a greater percentage of their populations living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.  It should come as no surprise, then, that the “mules” who carry out massive smuggling activities are—like the border jumpers to our south and many of the Palestinians stopped by the Israeli border fence—only trying to make a living, their partisans tell us.

One early February afternoon, my Indian colleagues and I arrived at the tiny border town of Panitanki.  Not unlike those in border towns elsewhere throughout the world, Panitanki’s streets were lined with small shops and itinerant peddlers hawking every sort of ware, legal and otherwise.  There was even a plastic tote bag with the words Mazel Tov in Hebrew.  How it got there is anyone’s guess since I was probably the only Jew ever to visit the town.  Panitanki’s main road ends in a bridge over the Mechi River that forms the border between India and Nepal and where people and vehicles could cross freely.  As a steady stream of trucks, covered wagons, and men carrying large packages on their heads crossed into India, my Bengali colleagues would point to one and say ‘Arms’; to another and say ‘Drugs.’ And they would do so again and again.  ‘That one,’ they would say, ‘has counterfeit banknotes.  A big smuggling business.’ I knew that we were in the “Chicken’s Neck”; a 24 kilometer wide strip of Indian territory bordered by Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Tibet.  The area is notorious for arms, drug, and counterfeit banknote smuggling and a known entry point for Islamist and Communist terrorists into India.

The illegal activity is so open that it did not raise so much as an eyebrow among the people of Panitanki.  Worse, the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers did not react either.  So, I pulled out my video camera and started shooting.  The contents were carried into India so brazenly that even I got somewhat adept at identifying which parcels contained arms or other contraband.  As we moved closer to the bridge, the shops and rickshaw drivers gave way to official outposts.  Many were abandoned; many simply empty.  Soldiers remained at some posts but were inert to the illegal activity that threatened their nation.  No one checked any packages or stopped a single individual—until I came along with my camera.  As we passed a pile of sandbags, two soldiers emerged and brandished their rifles.

“Put away your camera.”

(Sometimes we spoke through my Bengali friends; sometimes directly in English)


“Put away your camera!”

Pointing to their rifles and uniforms, “What?  Are you afraid that I will pick up some great military secret for the US Army?”

“If you do not put your camera away now, we will confiscate it.”

“You got me.” Then putting my camera away, I turned to my friends and said, “I thought this was a free country.” Turning back to the soldiers, “Gee, I guess I was wrong.”

Having complied with the soldiers’ orders, I told them we were moving on to the bridge.  But there was a problem.  As an American citizen, I needed a visa from the Nepalese government to cross.  So the soldiers demurred (even though third country nationals frequently take rickshaws or other conveyances across the border without any difficulty.  A discussion ensued, and we established that the border was in the middle of the bridge and that if I kept my camera packed and did not go even a millimeter into Nepal; we could proceed.  But the soldiers made sure to tell me that if I violated either of those conditions, they would arrest me and confiscate my camera.

As we moved forward, it became clear why the soldiers did not want me taking pictures.  The flow of dangerous contraband across the border was heavy, continuous, and apparent to anyone with eyes, as was the lack of response by the BSF.  Moreover, it was the dry season.  From the middle of the bridge, one could see people crossing the border through the dried river bed on either side of the bridge, most carrying large parcels with them.

My own observations are not anomalous.  Bengali informants explained the BSF’s inaction.  They insisted that the BSF and other military units (such as the Assam Rifles) are not corrupt, but they have been told that they have no authority to stop smuggling.  That is the responsibility of the local police, in this case that of Communist West Bengal.  But the West Bengali police are thoroughly corrupt and are easily bribed to allow the illegal activity.  The same is true in the impoverished areas of Uttar Pradesh bordering Nepal.  Moreover, Panitanki is one of only 22 check points along the 1,400 kilometer border; most of the area is open to smuggling and terrorist infiltration.

The situation, according to evidence published in The Hindustan Times (HT) and other major Indian papers, is extremely damaging.  In February, HT ran a series about the India-Nepal border. HT and others write that it is a conduit for illicit activity, including arms and drugs, illegal and impoverished Nepalese immigrants, and terrorist infiltration.  Islamist terrorists originate in Pakistan and Bangladesh (although many of the latter cross across the porous India-Bangladesh border as well).  Maoist terrorists originate in China or communist Nepal.  These terrorists have been responsible for attacks throughout India and not only in the border areas.  This past summer, for instance, Indian authorities arrested one Sheikh Nayeem from Bangladesh.  He was able to transport four Islamist terrorists into India by bribing junior officers 200 Indian Rupees or about $4.00 apiece.  In 2007, those four terrorists carried out terrorist bombings in Hyderabad, a state thousands of miles from Bangladesh in the India’s far south.

With Hezbollah terrorists long established in Central and South America, the United States could face the same future if its citizens allow the same open border policy in their country.

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Dr. Richard L. Benkin secured the release of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in 2005.  The two continue working together to fight Islamist radicals and their allies in South Asia and elsewhere.  For more information on how to help, please contact Dr. Benkin at  Their web site is [url=][/url].

Dr. Benkin can be reached at:

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