Latino groups are attacking a Texas Congressman who said Middle Eastern terrorists have formed links with Mexican drug cartels and are getting training on how to pass as undocumented Mexican immigrants when entering the United States.
"We know that Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border,” U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert said on C-SPAN. “We know that people are being trained to come in and act like they're Hispanic when they're radical Islamist."
He did not elaborate how they are taught to "act. . .Hispanic."
His comments have been criticized by Latino groups who say he is exploiting the Boston Marathon tragedy to boost himself.
“Rep. Louie Gohmert’s comments were unacceptable, offensive, and ignorant,” said Jennifer Korn, head of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a center-right group. “Using a national tragedy to further his own anti-immigration reform agenda is not only shameful, but also a blatant attempt to disingenuously twist public sentiment at a vulnerable time. We must take a strong stand and making it clear this kind of intolerance has no place in the conservative movement.”
Gohmert, who is vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, said during the interview that while the United States should continue welcoming immigrants, it also needs to be highly vigilant about its borders.
“We want America to continue to be a haven for people who want to live free,” Gohmert said, “Unfortunately, when you have the greatest country, the greatest liberties, you’re going to draw people that want to destroy you.”
Using a national tragedy to further his own anti-immigration reform agenda is not only shameful, but also a blatant attempt to disingenuously twist public sentiment at a vulnerable time.
- Jennifer Korn, executive director of Hispanic Leadership Network
Gohmert's office said the congressman was basing his statement about terrorists trying to pass themselves off as Latinos on congressional testimony delivered in 2005.
A House Homeland Security committee report said: "Statements made by high-ranking Mexican officials prior to and following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks indicate that one or more Islamic terrorist organizations has sought to establish a presence in Mexico. In May 2001, former Mexican National securityadviser and ambassador to the United Nations, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, reported, that
“Spanish and Islamic terrorist groups are using Mexico as a refuge.”
The report added that then-Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller had said that "there are individuals from countries with known Al Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic immigrants."
In his interview with C-SPAN, Gohmert did not directly tie the Boston bombings to his assertion, which he made when asked about his views on the bipartisan immigration bill. The bill seeks to tighten border security while also giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to legalization.
The interviewer asked the congressman if he was suggesting that people who cross the border do so with intentions to attack the United States.
“Oh gosh no,” Gohmert responded. “In fact…we need immigration, we want immigration. . .it’s just insane not to protect ourselves.”
Gohmert’s comments came after U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said after the bombings that the tragedy, which killed three people and injured more than 180 others, was cause for slowing down on acting on the immigration reform bill.
King came under fire from groups that also accused him of unfairly tarnishing all immigrants, and using the Boston bombings to rekindle his long-standing opposition to giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to legalization.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a key member of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” which drafted the bill, indirectly assailed King for linking the bombing and the momentum for immigration reform.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente