Woman charged after allegedly crossing into Texas with altered passport, thousands in cash

| Friday, July 30, 2004

A South African woman has been arrested after crossing into Texas from Mexico while allegedly using a false passport, a spokesman for the FBI confirmed.

The woman, Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed, 48, who is reportedly from Johannesburg, South Africa, was arrested July 19 in McAllen, Texas, at McAllen-Miller International Airport, Rene Salinas, an FBI spokesman, confirmed. McAllen is near the Mexican border near the Rio Grande River, roughly 60 miles from Brownsville, TX.

Ahmed was taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol officials when she went to the airport to board a flight to New York. Law enforcement officials said her passport was altered, with some pages ripped out and no U.S. entry stamp.

When she was apprehended, Ahmed was carrying roughly $7,300, mostly in U.S. currency.

Media outlets reported that the woman admitted entering the United States illegally by crossing in from Mexico. Initial reports – which quoted federal officials, including U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi – said she was taken into custody because her name appeared on a terrorist watch list. However, prosecutors in Texas said she was not on any watch list, and was being held on immigration-related charges.

Rosalee Savage, a spokeswoman for the McAllen office of the FBI, said those charges included wrongfully entering the United States, making false materials statements to officials and altering an official passport.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office, which is representing Ahmed, did not return calls from Land Line as of press time on Friday, July 30. However, Thomas Lindenmuth, a supervisor at the agency’s McAllen office, told the McAllen Monitor he considered the worldwide media coverage of the woman’s arrest and the accusations of terrorist connections to be a case of racial profiling. Ahmed is a Muslim.

Opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement have long contended that the treaty’s provisions that allow free flow of trucks between the United States and Mexico make it too easy for anyone – including potential terrorists – to enter this country.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the security issue is often overlooked when officials discuss the Mexican truck issue.

“Given the events of 9/11, it is more than a little troubling that our southern border, long the preferred path for illegal drug trade, could now be a path for much more,” Spencer said.

The ease of obtaining a CDL in Mexico means that using a truck with a legal shipment, a terrorist could enter the country using “legitimate” means.

“We understand that it is relatively easy to purchase a Mexican CDL if you know the right people or have enough money,” Spencer said.

A potential terrorist would have very little difficulty obtaining a Mexican CDL, driving into the United States with a legal NAFTA shipment, and then disappearing into the country with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer.

“From a security perspective, opening the border to more Mexican trucks will just exacerbate the major immigration problems we have identified,” Spencer said. “It is unbelievable that our country is rushing to open the Mexican border almost as if Sept. 11 didn't happen.”

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.

Dick Larsen of Land Line contributed to this report.

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