U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) publicized the number of terrorism-related border encounters in the past fiscal years—for the first time since President Joe Biden took office. It came under mounting pressure from Republicans.
Such individuals, either known or “reasonably suspected” to be previously been involved in terrorism, are part of a federal terror watchlist identified in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). The Biden administration had previously refused to publicly reveal updates on TSDB encounters at the border, citing “law enforcement sensitive” concerns.
Although the recent statistical release doesn’t count those who evaded Border Patrol agents, the latest update indicates rising border encounters related to terrorist suspects.
It shows that TSDB encounters at ports of entry by CBP’s Office of Field Operations reached a peak in the federal government’s fiscal year 2019 at 538 and fell in the following two years to 157 in the fiscal year 2021.
The current fiscal year, ending on Sept. 30, however, is set to go beyond the number of 2021, recording so far 131 TSDB encounters, including 96 at the northern border and 35 at the southern border.
U.S. Border Patrol has also recorded higher numbers of TSDB encounters during patrols at the northern and southern borders in the past two fiscal years. There have been 27 encounters in the fiscal year 2022—all from the southern border—compared to single digits of years between 2017 and 2020.
The percentage of total encounters in the current fiscal year has more than doubled compared to a year earlier.
Republicans have repeatedly requested the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to disclose the full data of the illegal immigrants encountered at the border.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and his 19 colleagues criticized in an April 14 open letter the lack of transparency from the DHS, which allegedly failed to provide detailed and comprehensive immigration enforcement data.
“In FY21, DHS saw more illegal migrants cross the southern border than any other year in DHS history, arguably creating a larger toll on DHS and the American people than at any point in history,” the letter concludes.
In a March letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Republicans on both the House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees called for to make the number of TSDB encounters public.
“The American people deserve to know this information and the realities of the security situation we face at our broken borders, especially where terrorists attempt to gain entry to our country,” Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) said in the letter.
Earlier this year, Rep. August Pfluger introduced legislation to force DHS to publish the number of known and suspected terrorists trying to enter the nation on a monthly basis.
An April 15 court filing shows more than 221,000 migrant encounters at the southern border in March alone, which makes it the highest in two decades.
Mayorkas on 28 April told members of Congress that there were more than 389,000 “gotaways” at the U.S.–Mexico border during the fiscal year 2021. Later on May 4, he said some of the 42 illegal immigrants who were arrested by U.S. border agents and identified as suspected terrorists between Jan. 20, 2021, and March 2022, may have been released into the United States.
It all comes as the Biden administration is aiming in May to drop Title 42, a policy used under former President Donald Trump that has so far expelled over 1.7 million illegal migrants at the U.S.–Mexico border due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move has fueled bipartisan fears of unprecedented migrant traffic streaming into the already overwhelmed border.
A federal court on April 27 temporarily blocked the upcoming lift, until arguments for a formal injunction can be considered.
Biden administration has reportedly been planning for scenarios where there could be up to 18,000 border crossings a day.