When President Donald Trump said Islamic terror suspects were crossing America’s southern border among Central American caravans in 2018, just about everyone with a megaphone called him a fear-mongering, anti-immigrant liar.
But now that new information from Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proving this supposedly fake national security threat has come out, the sound of silence is overwhelming. This demands at least some discussion in context before it isallowed to pass quietly into the news-cycle night – or until a terrorist finally attacks. As the author who wrote the only book about this threat, I volunteer for duty.
The first piece of information came by way of a Fox News Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to DHS. The agency’s return said that between January 20 and December 27, 2021, Border Patrol encountered 23 border-crossing migrants who matched the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) better known as the terror watch list. This is a big deal because nowadays serious, vetted intelligence information is necessary for anyone to get nominated and approved to be on the TSDB. Rarely, if ever, does an individual wind up on this list by accident.
A second piece of information came by separate information request from Texas Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas). In response, the DHS reported that between Inauguration Day and December 31, 2021 federal authorities caught 42 watch-listed immigrants between ports of entry and in the brush between ports of entry. The overlap between the information received from Roy’s and Fox News’s information requests is unclear. It’s also unclear whether the ports of entry referenced are on the border at all. But what is clear is that as few as 23 and as many as 42 suspected terrorists were encountered at the border last year – not according to Donald Trump but the DHS itself.
First, know this: anyone on the FBI’s terror watch list does not qualify for entry under any circumstance and must be deported. Secondly, illegal immigration from nations where Islamic terrorist groups operate happens all the time. There is a steady flow of smuggling into South and Central America, where Biden’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection say smugglers enter northbound towards the American border.
In normal, non-crisis times, between 3,000 and 4,000 foreign nationals from 25-35 countries of national security concern and flagged as “special interest aliens” reach the American southern border each year. They are coming from places such as Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Syria. I have met and interviewed special interest aliens for years, photographing and videotaping them from Panama and Nicaragua to Guatemala and southern Mexico.
The majority are likely economic migrants but this is still a high-risk category, owing in no small part to the fact that 23-42 migrants on the terror watch list have undoubtedly traveled in this flow. The 23-42 number for 2021 lines up with my investigative findings in my book “America’s Covert Border War,” where I reported that an average of 20 terror-watch-listed illegal immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa are apprehended each year either at the southern border or en route to it, in Mexico and beyond.
Thankfully, America has suffered no terror attack from any of these terror-watch-listed immigrants. Although, one Somali who crossed through California went on to conduct a 2017 double-vehicle attack in Edmonton, Canada while carrying an ISIS flag. I attribute America’s safety from such attacks to counterterrorism programs that require intelligence officers conduct enhanced interviews and investigations with special interest migrants. Almost always, when migrants are on the FBI terrorism watch list, they are deported.
American counterterrorism programs also involve American investigators scouring Latin America for travelers and disrupting the unique long-haul smuggling organizations that bring them in.
This counterterrorism system works well when immigration flow over the border is manageable. But that has not been the case for 18 months straight. The Border Patrol has been overrun with more than 2.5 million apprehensions since January 2021 – the most since the United States began keeping records in 1960. Even more worrisome are the 620,000 more border-crossers who simply got away into the American interior.
Two recent cases suggest that the threat of terror has escalated under this historic onslaught at the border.
As I have previously reported, a Lebanese Venezuelan migrant who swam the Rio Grande from Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas in early December was flagged on the FBI terror watch list. According to internal documents the FBI still managed to interview him, even amid the border chaos that month. The agents found “substantial derogatory intelligence” on the Venezuelan and counted him as a “high risk” and a “flight risk,” recommending that he remain in custody. Normally, such individuals are deported. But in this case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordered that he be released for fear that, due to his weight, he might catch Covid. He is now free pursuing asylum in Detroit.
This case strongly suggests the border crisis is to blame for this breach in counterterrorism protocol. But so does another case that happened on the Mexican side. According to other documents leaked to me, in April 2021 Mexican immigration officials caught a watch-listed Yemeni migrant just as he was about to cross into Del Rio, Texas. Typically, the U.S. and Mexico have a deep collaboration on terrorist travel threat issues. For instance, between 2014 and 2019, Mexico deported 19 suspected migrant terrorists in league with the United States.
But not in this case. Mexico ended up deporting the migrant, but in July, when the border was swamped on both sides, the Yemeni came back. Rather than deport him, as I reported, the Mexicans simply let him because they needed to clear out detention centers. Though a warning went to law enforcement along the U.S. border, it’s unclear if the Yemeni was ever found.
Back when President Trump first started talking about the threat of suspected terrorists crossing our southern border, a smaller mass migration crisis was underway with caravans coming out of Central America and creating chaos on the American side. And what happened? American institutions ridiculed him and moved on guffawing about just another weird, untrue thing Trump said.
But Americans should not move on from the current threat. If they do, they do so yet again at the real peril of a border wildly out of control and with the protective covert border war sputtering and misfiring. Good luck to us all.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.