Newly released data on Saturday reveals that the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended over 172 known or suspected terrorists who entered the United States illegally from either Mexico or Canada over the past year.
A Striking Departure From the Past
This significant increase is a far cry from the single-digit numbers associated with the terror watch list during the previous administration.
Concerns Over Triple Digit Numbers
The escalating trend of double and triple-digit encounters over recent years has become a cause for concern among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, particularly as violence surges in the Middle East.
Notable Increase Over the Years
Of the approximately 2,037,000 arrests made at the southern border between October 2022 and September 2023, 172 individuals were identified as being on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s terror watch list, also known as the Terrorist Screening Database.
What Is the Terrorist Screening Database?
This database is distinct from the No-Fly list and contains names of individuals linked to terrorist groups or those associated with terrorism.
Setting New Records
This year’s figure of 172 individuals surpasses the previous record of 98 in 2022 and 16 in 2021, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
It represents a historic milestone for the Border Patrol, established in 1924, exceeding all previous records.
Geographical Distribution of Encounters
Of the total arrests, 169 individuals were apprehended at the southern border, with only three incidents occurring at the U.S.-Canada border.
A Tiny Fraction of Total Arrests
Remarkably, just 0.008% of the more than 2 million arrested illegal immigrants in the past year were found to match the terror watch list.
Advocates for immigrants have previously argued that this issue has been overstated.
Different Modes of Encounter
While a more significant number of individuals on the terror watch list were encountered at land, air, and sea ports of entry, particularly while attempting to enter the U.S. via legal channels, it’s the individuals who crossed illegally and attempted to evade authorities that raise the greatest concerns among experts.
Encounters at Various Borders
Port-of-entry encounters along the northern border resulted in the identification of 484 individuals on the terror watch list, while customs officers at southern border crossings encountered 80 such individuals.
Strain on the Border Patrol
The situation at the southern border has placed enormous strain on the 19,000-person-strong Border Patrol.
A shortage of agents has resulted in a significant number of illegal immigrants entering the country undetected, aided by Mexican smuggling organizations or cartels, which employ various tactics, including diversion through the use of people and drugs.
Members of Congress have voiced their concerns about the need to secure the U.S. border.
This concern is further fueled by the recent incident where militants from a foreign terrorist organization breached the Israel-Gaza border and committed grave atrocities.
Senator Tom Cotton’s Warning
Senator Tom Cotton expressed the seriousness of the threat, especially in light of the 1.5 million individuals who have entered the country illegally since President Joe Biden assumed office in January 2021.
These unapprehended individuals cannot be screened against U.S. criminal or terror databases, posing a significant risk.
Rep. Henry Cuellar’s Commitment
Representative Henry Cuellar stressed the need to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. through the southern border.
As the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Congress has increased the budget of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) by 15% over the past two years.
Border Security as National Security
Cuellar said that border security is synonymous with national security.
Border Patrol’s Screening Challenges
An audit by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General revealed that Border Patrol agents in Arizona arrested and subsequently released an illegal immigrant on the FBI’s terror watch list, leading to a prolonged effort by federal agencies to locate and re-arrest the individual.
Transparency and the Fbi’s Warnings
Despite previous practices of transparency and public disclosures, there has been a notable lack of information on such arrests in recent years.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has cautioned that although there is no imminent threat from foreign terrorist organizations at the border, terrorists are actively seeking vulnerabilities to exploit.
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