CBP Shatters Terror Watch List Arrest Record

terror watch list
A young female Border Patrol agent searches a young Mexican man who crossed the Rio Grande River illegally to enter the U.S. | Image by Vic Hinterlang/Shutterstock

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has reported that arrests of suspects on the FBI’s terror watch list at the southern border shattered all previous annual records, including the record set in fiscal year (FY) 2022.

By the end of May, CBP had arrested 125 individuals on the terror watch list between ports of entry along the southern border. Two were arrested along the northern border. With four months remaining in FY 2023, the 2022 record of 98 arrests has already been smashed.

The increase in encounters and arrests is a stunning uptick. In FY 2021, there were only 15 arrests of such suspects at the southern border. In FY 2020, there were just three, and in FY 2019, there were zero.

Ports of entry have also seen an uptick in individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list attempting to enter the United States.

In the entirety of FY 2022, CBP apprehended 380 individuals, up from 157 in FY 2021. By the end of May 2023, CBP had already encountered and arrested 337 individuals. The majority of these — 284 — were apprehended at the northern U.S. border, and 53 were arrested along the southern U.S. border.

The arrest figures represent a minuscule fraction of the total number of unlawful migrants crossing the border. Just under 600,000 unlawful migrants escaped border patrol officers into the U.S. in FY 2022, up from 390,000 in FY 2021. Still, the number of individuals on the terror watch list attempting to cross the border raises serious national security concerns.

The Department of Homeland Security was founded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The attacks were carried out by a team of only 19 hijackers who had managed to enter the United States.

CBP Chief Raul Ortiz told the House Committee on Homeland Security in March that the Department of Homeland Security had essentially lost “operational control” of the U.S. southern border, CNN reported.

According to U.S. law, the working definition of “operational control” in border enforcement is “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

The number of potentially hostile foreign actors who have entered the United States is currently unknown.

Houston-area Congressman Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) reacted on Twitter to the news of the record-breaking number of arrests, saying the porous border had compromised U.S. national security.

“Border Patrol agents have caught 127 noncitizens on the FBI’s terror watchlist who tried to enter the U.S. illegally since the start of FY23. The world knows our border is open & our national security is compromised because of it,” Luttrell tweeted.

Center for Immigration Studies President Mark Krikorian was a little more facetious in his analysis on Twitter.

“It’s all fun and games until something blows up,” Krikorian wrote.

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