How Mideast Smugglers Get Their Clients Real Passports and Visas

In March 2008, an airport customs inspection officer in Kuwait stopped three Mexican passport holders transiting to France, en route home from a visit to India. The customs officer in Kuwait City didn’t like the feel of it. He asked them to speak some Spanish for him. Only one of the three could.

The travelers were not Mexicans at all, of course. They were Afghan nationals posing as Mexicans, who most likely were being smuggled to the United States border through Mexico. What was especially curious about the case, though, was that the Mexican passports they had presented in Kuwait were authentic, bar-coded identity documents.

The ensuing international investigation soon found that the Afghanis had obtained these real passports from a source so obscure that almost anyone would have missed its broader significance: the passports came from Mexico’s consulate office in Mumbai. The travelers had paid $10,000 for each passport to a corrupt Mexican consulate official in the huge city.

Acquisition of such travel identity documents from the diplomatic missions of Mexico -- and those of many other Latin American nations in the spawning grounds of Islamic terrorism -- is no anomaly. The use of official Latin American passports and visas is deeply embroidered into the business models of many “special interest alien” smuggling organizations that make terrorist travel to America’s land border possible.

Last week, I identified the SIA smugglers as the primary strategic national security target for any serious American homeland security effort to reduce the threat of terrorist border infiltration. SIA smugglers provide the continuous long-distance bridge for migrants from some 35 nations in the Middle East (such as Syria and Iraq), South Asia (Pakistan and Afghanistan), and North Africa (Somalia, Yemen, and Sudan) who routinely make their way to and over the U.S.-Mexico land border.

The value to SIA smugglers of Mexican consulate offices in places like Mumbai might not seem obvious to anyone with limited information on this migration phenomenon and homeland security problem. The research I published for my Naval Postgraduate School thesis this year, based on a systematic qualitative analysis of 19 American prosecutions, identified the consulates as a key attackable “fail point” in the smuggling networks.

Migration from the 35 countries is expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous; the research demonstrated that SIA smugglers always look for paths of least resistance. Regardless of their starting points, all SIA migrants eventually end up converging somewhere in the Western Hemisphere and then start trekking north toward the U.S. border. Most of them arrive in South America, particularly in Ecuador and Brazil, and then start the northward slog through the nations of Central America and Mexico until they can reach Texas, California, or Arizona. A typical trip from, say, Ecuador, will involve transit by plane, bus, car, boat, and foot through Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico. This arduous trip comes with the extra costs of bribes, transportation, lodging, and food, not to mention the hassle and time of occasional arrests along the way.

But a Mexican passport can enable a smuggler to bypass all of that trouble and expense by flying directly into Mexico City, Tijuana, or Reynosa.

That increases the value of Mexican passports or visas, as well as the value of such documents further south, such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba. It’s no wonder that Mexico’s foreign stations came up more often than any other country.