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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

We Need A Fence?

TV ads say 'easy immigration from Mexico' provides cover for terrorists. But the 9/11 hijackers had visas. And what about Canada?


A conservative group pushing for a $4-billion security fence along the Mexican border has run a TV ad showing the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center while claiming “illegal immigration from Mexico provides easy cover for terrorists.”

The ad identifies a real problem – scores of persons from Middle Eastern countries are caught each year trying to slip across the southern border, and many more doubtlessly go uncaught. But statistics show twice as many come across the Canadian border. And so far we have little or no evidence that any of them are terrorists.

Furthermore, all the 9/11 hijackers had visas and entered the US legally, mostly through Orlando, Miami, Washington, or New York. None came across the Mexican border. To that extent, the ad is misleading.


The group Let Freedom Ring, Inc. has been running a pair of ads promoting the idea of building “a state-of-the-art border security fence” along the US boundary with Mexico. It said it bought $100,000 worth of air time for the ad, which was seen nationally on CNN and Fox News.

Let Freedom Ring, Inc Ad: “Easy Cover”

(On Screen : “U.S.  Mexico Border Apprehensions, 872,395 in 2004”)

Announcer: If we don’t fix the illegal immigration problem at the border, the problem will grow in far more dangerous ways

(On Screen: “Special Interest Aliens Apprehended Near Border Iran – 7, Indonesia -13, Afghanistan – 8, Sudan – 3, Lebanon – 8, Syria – 5)

Because illegal immigration from Mexico provides easy cover for terrorist, they try to exploit our weak immigration laws…

(On Screen: Washington Times 8/31/05 & 6/30/05)

….and blend in with the thousands who cross the border day and night….

(On Screen: Busy city street)

…leaving this country vulnerable to another attack.

(On Screen: Images of  plane crashing into World Trade Center )

We need to secure the border.

Go to www.WeNeedAFence.com to learn more.

The group is led by Colin Hanna, a Republican and former commissioner of Chester County , Pennsylvania, where he gained some national attention for refusing to remove a plaque of the Ten Commandments from the county courthouse.

“Easy Cover” for 9/11 Terrorists?

The ad “Easy Cover” says that “illegal immigration from Mexico provides easy cover for terrorists” while showing video of a hijacked plane slamming into the second  World Trade Center tower on September 11, 2001. The narrator says “we need to secure the border.” Viewers are directed to a Web site promoting the building of a 2000-mile security barrier similar to those built by Israel: 50 yards wide and including a ditch, coils of barbed wire, two tall wire fences, and sensors to warn of any incursion, at an estimated cost of between $4 billion and $8 billion.

But, according to the 9/11 Commission, none of the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States by crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and all of them had visas issued by the US State Department. According to a staff report from the commission, some of the 19 hijackers entered the US several times, always through US airports. The report said, on pages 7 and 8, that the first hijacker flew in through Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 15, 2000. ” All others entered through 8 airports on the East Coast, including 11 entries through New York area airports and 12 through Florida airports.” One would-be hijacker, Mohamed al Kahtani, tried to fly in through Orlando but was turned away when he aroused suspicions of an alert Immigration official and later became hostile and gave evasive answers when interrogated.

In fact, according to the  9/11 Commission’s final report, al Qaeda selected many of the hijackers based largely on how easily they could obtain legal entry into the United States. For example, according to the commission, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Midhar, two of the five al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, had few other qualifications for a mission to the US:

9/11 Commission Report, p. 215: Their only qualifications for this plot were their devotion to Usama Bin Ladin, their veteran service, and their ability to get valid U.S. visas. Neither had spent any substantial time in the West, and neither spoke much, if any, English.

In fairness, the ad does say that illegal immigration is “leaving this country vulnerable to another attack” – in the future. But the ad could easily give viewers the impression that a fence would have stopped the attack on the World Trade Center itself, which is false. We asked Let Freedom Ring’s chairman Hanna if he was misleading viewers, and he had this to say:

Colin Hanna: I don’t agree with that inference at all. Numerous terrorism experts conclude that the most likely place for a terrorist to enter the U.S., even with a suitcase bomb, is the Southwest border.

But in fact, as we shall see, Hanna is focusing attention on the wrong border. More persons who his ads suggest are potential terrorists are actually coming in over the northern border than over the southern border.

Let Freedom Ring, Inc Ad: “Fence”

(On Screen: Images of a desert landscape)

Announcer: The U.S southern border extends nearly two thousand miles. It is a vast, open region. Reports document the infiltration of this border by foreign nationals from terrorism-sponsoring countries including…

Iran  …

(On screen: Word on center screen “Iran.” Also on screen Indonesia, Sudan, and Pakistan)

….and Syria.

(On screen: Word on center screen “Syria.” Also on screen Indonesia, Sudan, and Pakistan)

In an age of global terrorism, America cannot afford this risk.

It’s time to secure the border. It’s time for a state of the art border security fence.

Go to www.WeNeedAFence.com to learn more.

“Infiltration” by Whom? And Where?

A second ad called “Fence” says that “reports document the infiltration of this border by foreign nationals from terrorism-sponsoring countries including Iran and Syria.” That echoes a message also contained in the first ad, which states that “special interest” aliens have been caught near the Mexican border from several nations with Muslim majorities. Together, the two ads name seven Muslim countries: Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria.

The term “special interest” could mislead some viewers – it means nothing more than that the individual apprehended comes from a country that US officials deem to be of “special interest,” and not necessarily because of terrorism. It doesn’t mean the individuals themselves have done anything to arouse suspicion other than attempting to enter the US without legal permission.

It  is true that scores of persons from those seven nations (and other Muslim nations) are caught each year trying to sneak across the Mexican border, something Homeland Security officials would rather not discuss publicly. When we asked for official figures, Border Patrol officials would not release them to us and said they would not comment on them.

However, the Border Patrol has released such figures to Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado and a crusader for increased efforts to stop illegal immigration. Tancredo has released the figures publicly, and the Border Patrol doesn’t dispute their authenticity.

The figures confirm that large numbers of non-Mexicans are caught coming across the Mexican border illegally each year, and a tiny fraction of them are from the seven nations mentioned in the ad. During the three years immediately following the attacks of September 2001 – the years covered by the figures Tancredo has released so far – the Border Patrol reported capturing a total of 946 persons from the seven nations attempting to enter illegally. However, only 320 of those were caught at the Mexican border, where the ad’s sponsors want to build a fence. Nearly twice as many were caught coming in from Canada and other points. In all, 472 were apprehended at the Canadian border, and 154 were apprehended in the Miami, New Orleans and Puerto Rico regions of the Border Patrol.

As “documentation” for their ad, Let Freedom Ring posted a less complete set of statistics which they attributed to the Border Patrol. These take in only the nine months ending June 30, 2004 and the nine months ending a year earlier. But even these fragmentary statistics tell the same story as Tancredo’s figures covering three full years: for the seven countries mentioned in the ads, more than twice as many persons were caught at the northern border than at the southern border.

In summary, the best evidence available, as well as the evidence cited by the sponsors of the ad, makes a better case for building a fence at the Canadian border than it does at the Mexican border – that is, if Let Freedom Ring’s object is truly to stop illegal immigration from Muslim countries rather than from Mexico and Central America.

When we asked Hanna about this, he said “93 per cent of OTM (Other Than Mexican) illegal aliens cross the southern border.” That’s true, but the vast majority of those “OTM’s” crossing the Mexican border come from non-Muslim nations such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere in Central American and South America. When asked if he believes the US should build a fence on the northern border, Hanna said, “Yes. I think we need to seriously consider it but we must begin with the southern border.”

Who’s Paying?

Let Freedom Ring isn’t saying where it is getting the money to run these ads. The group is a conservative organization created in 2004 to support President Bush’s re-election agenda, but it is organized as a lobbying group under section 501(c)4 of the federal income-tax code and doesn’t have to disclose its donors as required of political organizations organized under section 527.

According to an article by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal in September of 2004, Let Freedom Ring “is attracting wealthy Christians who don’t want to be seen as political.”

Also, Hanna confirmed to us that a major donor to Let Freedom Ring is its chairman Dr. Jack Templeton, who is the son of John Templeton – who owned Templeton Funds until 1992.

by Brooks Jackson and Matthew Barge



Watch Let Freedom Ring Ad: “Fence 1”

Watch Let Freedom Ring Ad: “Easy Cover”


Supporting Documents

View “OTMs by country sector, FY02-FY04,” U.S. Border Patrol/Rep. Tom Tancredo

View “Monograph on 9/11 and Terrorist Travel,” Staff Monograph, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 21 August 2004.

View Analysis of Border Patrol Statistics showing more “Special Interest” aliens coming across the Canadian than the Mexican border.


Jerry Seper, “Report shows how terrorists exploited immigration laws,” The Washington Times, 31 August 2005.

Janice L. Kephart, “Immigration and Terrorism: Moving Beyond the 9/11 Staff report on Terrorist Travel,” Center for Immigration Studies, September 2005.

Detroit  Free Press v. Ashcroft , U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 303 F. 3d 681  (6th Cir. 2002).

Michael Marizco, “Some entrants to face swift ouster,” Arizona Daily Star, 14 August 2004.

John H. Fund, “Taste—Houses of Worship: Ballots and Believers,” Wall Street Journal, 24 September 2004.

The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States —Authorized Edition, New York : Norton, 2004.

Thomas R. Eldridge, et al, “Monograph on 9/11 and Terrorist Travel,” Staff Monograph, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 21 August 2004.