On June 17, Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) issued a statement in response to reports that some 15 illegal migrants (possibly more) whose names appeared on the FBI’s Terror Watchlist were apprehended in May at the Southwest border. Looking at the large number who were caught, he asked how many others weren’t. It’s a good question, given that the Biden administration has largely ceded control at the U.S.-Mexican line to illegal entrants from around the world.
The Terrorist Screening Database vs. the Terrorist Screening Dataset. My colleague Todd Bensman reported in April that CBP has begun including, among other enforcement statistics, encounters with aliens on the terror watchlist. I will note, however, that the agency changed the nomenclature for those hits since Bensman’s report.
A screenshot included with Bensman’s piece shows that CBP previously referred to those aliens as “Terrorist Screening Database [TSDB] Encounters” (Emphasis added.) There actually is a well-known TSDB, which as the Congressional Research Service has explained, is a multi-agency effort administered by the FBI.
That database, also known as the “terrorist watchlist”, contains “biographic identifiers for those known either to have or be suspected of having ties to terrorism”.
CBP now refers to those aliens as “Terrorist System Dataset [TSDS] Encounters”. I can’t find any reference to the TSDS outside of CBP (and few within it), but it appears that the TSDS is the portion of the TSDB to which CBP has access, or alternatively the interface through which CBP accesses the TSDB (and possibly both).
That said, according to CBP:
The TSDS originated as the consolidated terrorist watchlist to house information on known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) but has evolved over the last decade to include additional individuals who represent a potential threat to the United States, including known affiliates of watchlisted individuals.
The same could be said about the TSDB, so perhaps I am being picayune, or CBP is.
CBP Terrorist Screening Dataset Encounters. In any event, thus far in FY 2022, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border have apprehended 50 illegal migrants with records in the TSDS. By comparison, in FY 2021, there were 15 such apprehensions, which itself was five times as many as in FY 2020 (three). None occurred in FY 2019, six in FY 2018, and two in FY 2017.
Similarly, there were 50 encounters with TSDS aliens by CBP officers in the agency’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) at the Southwest border ports of entry in FY 2022.
That is slightly down from the 103 such encounters at the Southwest border ports in FY 2021, though close to the 72 TSDS encounters there in FY 2020. But it’s way behind FY 2019, when there were 280, and trails FY 2018 (155) and FY 2017 (116).
The picture at the Northern border is starkly different. Border Patrol agents there have apprehended just four TSDS illegal migrants in the past six fiscal years: Three in FY 2019 and one in FY 2021. No TSDS aliens have been apprehended by Border Patrol there this year.
The CBP officers in OFO at the Northern border ports have been busier on the terrorist front than their Border Patrol colleagues on the U.S.-Canadian line. They have encountered 142 TSDS aliens this fiscal year, more than double the total (54) in FY 2021. CBP officers at the Northern border have traditionally dealt with their share of terrorist watchlist aliens, however: 258 in FY 2019; 196 in FY 2018; and 217 in FY 2017.
Why the Difference at the Northern Border? Why are there so many suspected terrorists coming through the Northern ports from Canada?
At least part of the difference has to do with the aliens who end up on the TSDS to begin with. As noted above, the TSDS contains not only information on known or suspected terrorists, but also affiliates of such individuals.
As I have explained in the past, aliens suspected of terrorism abroad often have stronger factual asylum and Convention Against Torture (CAT) claims that the average protection claimant. They probably were investigated by the authorities back home, possibly arrested, and in instances abused. Of course, they deny any involvement in terrorism, ascribing the foreign government’s interest to simple persecution.
The same is also true of associates of known or suspected terrorists. If the authorities were looking for me in this country, they would first check with my family and my employer, before broadening the dragnet to my friends and acquaintances. That’s what happens abroad, too, and those “others” end up linked to the prime suspect.
Canada offers asylum and CAT protections like those found in the United States, so at least some of those aliens stopped at the Northern ports by OFO are likely associates of known or suspected terrorists who themselves may pose little or no risk to the United States.
It is harder to enter Canada illegally than the United States. Unless you are coming from this country, you can only get to the Great White North by boat or plane, and Canada employs robust vetting processes for all legal entrants before they depart at foreign ports on their way to the country.
That said, at least two intending terrorists have entered the United States from Canada: Algerian Ahmed Ressam, who attempted to enter on a fake Canadian passport to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on the millennium; and Palestinian Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, who entered illegally and was arrested while planning to bomb the New York subway system.
What’s the Danger? The Southwest border is an entirely different situation, which is why, like Rep. Pfluger, I am concerned about the uptick in TSDS aliens from there. Nearly half the aliens apprehended by Border Patrol at the Southwest border in May were “long-distance migrants”, not nationals of Mexico or the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Now that the welcome mat at the Southwest border is out, it is bound to attract not just aliens coming here “for a better life”, but those foreign nationals with some misguided axe to grind and an intention to harm the people of the United States and our institutions because of it.
Terrorists with an intent to harm the United States will seek to exploit our immigration system in the safest and most effective way possible. Because the Biden administration refuses to gain any control (let alone “operational control”) over the Southwest border, that means entering illegally from Mexico.
It is ironic that in its final report, the 9/11 Commission found: “In the decade before September 11, 2001, border security — encompassing travel, entry, and immigration — was not seen as a national security matter.”
Past is plainly prologue, because not only has the security situation at the Southwest border regressed under the Biden administration to what it was before 9/11, border security there is now worse, as the more than 700,000 illegal migrant “got-aways” who have entered unimpeded since the inauguration demonstrate.
Who’s in the gaggle of 700,000-plus Southwest border got-aways, which is larger than the population of Boston? No idea, and we won’t know who the worst ones are until they act. But the worst ones are plainly coming, as the 50 terror watchlist aliens Border Patrol agents have apprehended at the Southwest border in the first seven months of FY 2022 demonstrate.