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US-Mexican border as a terror risk

Recent intelligence gives the most evidence yet of terrorist plans. Lawmakers push for tighter security.

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Concern is growing at the top levels of government about the US-Mexican border becoming a back door for terrorists entering the United States. While Al Qaeda infiltration across the nation's southern border has been a constant concern since 9/11, US officials cite recent intelligence giving the most definitive evidence yet that terrorists are planning to use it as an entry point - if they haven't already.

As a result, a number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers - mainly from border states - are pushing to tighten checkpoints and other ways of monitoring the porous 1,400-mile boundary. The subject will also be central to President Bush's summit in Texas Wednesday with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.

"I'm worried about our border," Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said at a March 17 Senate hearing on threats facing the US. "We have now hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are crossing illegally every year. And we are now seeing a larger number of people cross our southern border who are from countries of interest as opposed to just Latin American [countries]."

The "countries of interest" that Senator McCain refers to are those so designated by the US government as known to house radical, if not terrorist, groups.

One of the biggest concerns is that terrorists may exploit the current crossing procedures to make their way into the US. One way they might do this - and members of Congress say evidence is mounting that terrorists are trying this - is by paying smuggling networks, especially organized gangs.

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