Intelligence community views migration from Central America as threat to national security

Intelligence community views migration from Central America as threat to national security
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The Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Daniel R. Coats, oversees and directs the 17 agencies and organizations that make up the intelligence community. He also is the principal adviser to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council on intelligence matters related to the national security.

On January 29, 2019, Coats presented the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The assessment is based on the collective insights of the intelligence community.

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Although Coats arguably contradicted President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE in some areas, such as the state of North Korea’s nuclear program, he supported Trump’s claim that the flood of migrants from Central America is causing a security crisis. The assessment includes migration from Central America as one of the threats to national security.

This is not the first time the intelligence community has identified migration from Central America as a security threat. The same finding was included in the Worldwide Threat Assessment that former DNI James R. Clapper presented to Congress in 2016, which was during the Obama administration.

The intelligence committee divided the hearing on Coats’ presentation into two segments, an open hearing for the public, and then a closed hearing at which classified information was presented.  

His formal, written statement at the open hearing includes the following remarks on the threat from Central American migration and the use of caravans by these migrants:

"We assess that high crime rates and weak job markets will spur additional US-bound migrants from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — while a political crackdown in Nicaragua dims that country’s already bleak economic outlook.

"Illicit migration northward from the region shows no signs of abating, despite increased messaging by governments to dissuade potential migrants and stepped-up immigration enforcement by Mexico. Many migrants apparently perceive that traveling in caravans on the journey north affords a certain level of security, and the decision to do so appears to result from a combination of individual motivation, encouragement from social media postings, and politically motivated efforts by some individuals and organizations.

"• Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s refusal to heed calls for negotiation amid his political crackdown, which has left more than 300 people dead and contributed to allegations of human rights abuses, threatens to deepen a recession in one of the region’s weakest economies."

These are the remarks on the threat of migration from Central America in the formal, written statement that former DNI Clapper submitted at the open segment of his presentation to Congress in 2016:

"Strong family ties to the United States — as well as gang violence, a lack of jobs, and a worsening drought in Central America’s northern tier — will sustain high rates of migration to the United States in 2016.  Weak institutions, divided legislatures, low levels of tax collection, and high debts will constrain efforts to improve rule of law, tackle corruption, and alleviate poverty. Homicide rates in the region remain among the highest in the world and spiked in El Salvador to levels not seen since the country’s civil war from 1979 to 1992. The people hardest hit by the drought include most of the region’s subsistence farmers, who constitute 25 to 40 percent of the population in Guatemala and Honduras. The prolonged drought will probably affect 3.5 million people in the region in 2016."

These remarks explain why Central Americans have been leaving their countries to migrate to the United States, but they do not explain why their migration to the United States is being viewed as a security threat.

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The implication seems to be that Coats and Clapper withheld that information from their public statements because it is classified.

The criterion for classifying information is set out in an executive order that former President Barack Obama issued on, “Classified National Security Information,” in 2009.

Information may be classified at one of the following levels:

‘‘Top Secret’’ is applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security;

‘‘Secret’’ is applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security; and

‘‘Confidential’’ is applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security.

The original classification authority has to be able to identify or describe the damage.

The public may never know why the intelligence community views migration from Central America as a threat to national security, but President Donald Trump knows. Keeping him informed on national security threats is one of Coats’ chief responsibilities.

Perhaps this casts a new light on Trump’s claim that there is a security crisis at the Mexican border… and his concern about caravans from Central America.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.