Mexican Diplomat Charged With Helping Smuggle Arabs Into U.S.

The real life horror story that began eighteen months ago when an Arab illegal alien named Youseff Balaghi showed up at a San Diego hospital, dying from what the Border Patrol initially-and erroneously-feared was radiation sickness, has now reached high into Mexico’s foreign service.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Imelda Ortiz Abdala was Mexico’s consul in Lebanon. On Nov. 12, 2003, Mexican authorities arrested her, according to the Associated Press, “on charges of helping a smuggling ring move Arab migrants into the United States from Mexico.” The AP said Mexico had also arrested “alleged ring leader Salim Boughader Mucharafille.” Boughader earlier pleaded guilty in the U.S. to the smuggling incident that resulted in Balaghi’s death.

Unfortunately, this story is not over.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Skerlos prosecuted Boughader. This week, citing Ortiz’s arrest, I asked him if there were other rings still bringing Middle Easterners in from Mexico.

“Yes,” he said.

Another Front

Far from Iraq, there’s another front where the terror war’s not over. It’s on our own border-and, here, the key enemies are the smugglers who bring people such as Balaghi into California, and who collaborate with allegedly corrupt officials such as Ortiz.

In congressional testimony in 2002, then-Assistant Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Joseph Greene said: “Information available to the INS indicates terrorist organizations often use human smuggling operations to move around the globe.” According to a Library of Congress study, “Organized Crime and Terrorist Activity in Mexico, 1999-2002,” former Mexican national security adviser Adolfo Aguilar Zinser said in May 2001: “Spanish and Islamic terrorist groups are using Mexico as a refuge.”

How is the U.S. countering the threat of terrorists using human smuggling operations and finding refuge in Mexico? Rather than securing our border generally, the government tolerates large-scale illegal immigration, while trying to selectively stop the smuggling operations most likely to move terrorists. The administration, Greene told Congress, has put in place an “enforcement initiative aimed at targeting alien smuggling organizations specializing in the movement of U.S.-bound aliens from countries that are of interest to the national security of the United States.”

Balaghi was from Lebanon.

On June 5, 2002, he showed up, vomiting blood, at Scripps Memorial Hospital-Chula Vista. He quickly died. When the Border Patrol heard his symptoms, they feared radiation sickness-and dispatched an agent with a detector to check his remains.

Balaghi was clean. But he was far from the only Middle Easterner Boughader’s ring had smuggled.

In an affidavit, Border Patrol Agent John R. Korkin said an investigation “positively identified at least 80 Lebanese nationals that have been, or were intercepted in the process of being, smuggled into the U.S.” by the ring. Boughader admitted in court to smuggling more than 100. He was sentenced to one year in prison, and deported to Mexico in November.

Almost immediately, Mexican authorities arrested him in their own anti-smuggling case. A few days later, they arrested Ortiz.

She had worked in Mexico’s foreign service for 25 years. From 1998 to October 2001, AP reported, she was Mexico’s consul in Lebanon. She later directed the consular office in Mexico City.

She was fired in May, AP said, “after 150 Mexican passports were stolen and two others were found to have been issued irregularly.”

Jose Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico’s assistant attorney general, told Notimex that Boughader’s ring moved “a great number of Arabs” into the United States. El Occidental, a Mexican newspaper, said it was “at least 200.”

I asked Skerlos to compare that number to the “at least 80 Lebanese nationals” cited in Korkin’s affidavit “I think it is fair to say that the numbers we included in our affidavit were conservative,” he said.

Almost a month after Ortiz was arrested, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said: “The bottom line is, as a country we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way, but also as a country decide what our immigration policy is and then enforce it.”

No, Mr. Secretary. We already have immigration laws. It’s your duty to enforce them. If the arrest of a Mexican diplomat for helping to smuggle Arabs into the U.S. can’t convince you of the need for that, what will?