One senior intelligence official said there is little evidence yet of East Africans trying to cross into the United States to engage in terror. The official requested anonymity because the information in the assessment is not public.
As computer chips and biometrics are required more often for travel documents, terrorists will have a more difficult time entering the country and could potentially use these smuggling routes as alternatives, said Hatfield, the immigration official who heads the human smuggling division.
The number of smuggling networks has remained steady over the past 10 years, with the highest concentration in Latin America, Hatfield said. It is the price and violence that have gone up. Ten years ago, it might have cost $500 to go from Mexico to Texas, whereas now it could cost up to $2,000.
"The competition is now harder for someone to come in illegally," Hatfield said. "The goal of the smuggler is to make as much money as they can."
People with terrorist ties still try to enter the country legally or with fake documents, Hatfield said, but ICE is keeping an eye on other potential methods now that security checks are more stringent. "We're watching those closely," he said.
Terrorists will continue to use whatever means necessary to get into the United States, including smuggling networks, said Janice Kephart, a former counsel on the government commission that investigated government activities before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Because it is much harder to use false documents than it once was, the smuggling networks offer a good way to get into the country anonymously, she said.