May 19, 2023

Comer says the rising number of terrorism suspects at the border is a ‘clear national security risk’

Stephen Dinan | The Washington Times

House Republicans launched a probe Friday into the soaring number of terrorism suspects who’ve been detected trying to sneak into the U.S. under President Biden, calling it a “clear national security risk” and demanding Homeland Security cough up its plan for stopping the surge.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer is leading the effort, joined by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green.

They pointed to the 96 people on the terrorism watchlist who’ve been caught at the southern border over the last seven months — by far a record pace — and said if that many are being detected, it begs the question of how many more are getting through.

“There is a growing risk that dangerous aliens with terrorist ties are making it across the border into the United States. This is a clear national security risk. We need to know that the Department of Homeland Security is making every effort to handle the risks presented by gotaways with potential terrorist ties,” Mr. Comer, Kentucky Republican, said.

The administration, in previous communications to Congress, has assured lawmakers that those caught at the border with terrorism-related records are “detained and removed.” But Mr. Comer and the other chairmen pointed to CBP’s website, which says they “may” be detained and removed “to the extent possible” under law and policy.

The lawmakers asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to explain what that means and to reveal any blockades on detaining terrorism suspects.

They also pointed to the 1.5 million illegal immigrants known to have entered and evaded capture — the so-called “gotaways.”

“We fear these known gotaways could also include illegal aliens with terrorist ties,” the chairmen wrote to Mr. Mayorkas.

Homeland Security said in a statement that it would answer the letter “via official channels, and the Department will continue to respond appropriately to Congressional oversight.”

The 96 people were caught by Border Patrol agents as they came across the U.S.-Mexico boundary. Their identities triggered hits in the government’s terrorism screening database, or TSDB, which is commonly referred to as the terrorism watchlist. The watchlist includes known and suspected terrorists and people believed to be associates of those individuals.

Homeland Security said terrorism designations are a snapshot in time and suggested some of those listed on the watchlist were placed there as part of organizations the U.S. no longer feels a threat.

Seven months into the fiscal year, agents have already nearly matched the full total for 2022 — which itself shattered previous records.

Sixteen terrorism suspects were apprehended in April alone. By contrast, the entire four years of the Trump administration saw just 11 apprehensions total.

The chairmen asked Mr. Mayorkas to turn over the immigration files and detention history of all illegal immigrants caught at the southwest border who were flagged by the TSDB during the Biden administration.

They also asked for Homeland Security’s estimates of terrorism suspects within the population of gotaways.

Claims of terrorists sneaking over the border came into stark view last year when the FBI accused an Iraqi man of trying to orchestrate an assassination plot against former President George W. Bush, using an Islamic State hit squad he planned to sneak in over the southern border.

The FBI said Shihab Shihab ran a smuggling operation, and in a conversation with an FBI informant claimed he had already smuggled two Hezbollah operatives in, charging them $50,000 apiece.

Shihab, who came to the U.S. in 2020 on a visitor’s visa and then filed an asylum claim, pleaded guilty last month to attempting to provide material support to terrorists for his role in the assassination plot. He is awaiting sentencing.

The terrorism numbers are striking not only in their volume but also in what they say about the immigration debate.

Two years ago, when GOP leaders visited the border during the early days of the Biden surge, they revealed they’d been told by agents of terrorism suspects being caught. Democrats accused them of lying, and fact-checkers swung into action to question their account.

Last year, however, Customs and Border Protection began to publish the numbers online every month. And the GOP claims were fully born out.

Pieces from CNN and PolitiFact purporting to fact-check the GOP claims remain online, uncorrected, as of this writing, even though the public data has been available for a year.

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