Follow-On Points About Those Missing Border Uzbeks

The lessons that Joe Biden has forgotten about counterterrorism and border security

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 1, 2023

My colleague Todd Bensman published a piece earlier this week captioned “What to Make of CNN’s Exclusive About an ISIS Smuggler Who Moved Uzbeks Over the Border”. Bensman describes how America’s counterterrorism programs have “almost collapsed” under the Biden administration, and he’s right — nothing underscores the decline better than DHS’s release of more than a dozen Uzbekistan nationals, who came to the United States illegally with the help of a smuggler who had ties to the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), were apprehended at the border, and were released by DHS into the country.

According to CNN: “There was no information in any of the intelligence community’s databases that raised any red flags and the people were all released into the US pending a court date.” There is a lot to unpack in that seemingly anodyne statement, which was plainly intended to ease the concerns of the American people. It shouldn’t. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • In reality, little, if any, screening is taking place before illegal migrants are released into the United States. As U.S. district court Judge T. Kent Wetherell II explained in his March 8 opinion in Florida v. U.S. — a case brought by the state of Florida to shut down the Biden administration’s border release policies:

    Although DHS says it is screening arriving aliens released on Parole+ATD to determine if they are a public safety threat, the more persuasive evidence establishes that DHS cannot reliably make that determination. Indeed, according to [the administration’s] own witnesses, DHS has no way to determine if an alien has a criminal history in his home country unless that country reports the information to the U.S. government or the alien self-reports. Therefore, DHS is mainly only screening aliens at the border to determine if they have previously committed a crime in the United States, and because many of these aliens are coming to the United States for the first time, DHS has no idea whether they have criminal histories or not.

  • Although Judge Wetherell did not discuss aliens who pose a national-security threat, his conclusions apply to illegal migrant terrorists and spies, as well.
  • He explained in his opinion that CBP was spending just two to 2.5 hours processing illegal migrants prior to placing them into removal proceedings and releasing, and as little as 15 to 30 minutes processing others that it simply released on parole without placing them into proceedings.

  • U.S. intelligence concerning potential terrorists is imperfect, at best. As former FBI Director James Comey testified in connection with the screening of Syrian refugees on October 21, 2015:

    We can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has not made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our databases, we can query our databases until the cows come home but nothing will show up because we have no record of that person. ... You can only query what you have collected. And with respect to Iraqi refugees, we had far more in our databases because of our country's work there for a decade. [The vetting of Syrian refugees] is a different situation.

  • Uzbekistan is a known source of terrorist threats. According to the CIA, in addition to ISIS’s most dangerous offshoot, Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham - Khorasan (ISIS-K), two other terrorist groups, Islamic Jihad Union and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan also operate in that country.
  • What is “ISIS-K”? The New York Times explains it was “founded in 2015 by disaffected Pakistani Taliban, is smaller, newer and embraces a more violent version of Islam than the Taliban”.

  • According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the group “disregards international borders and envisions its territory transcending nation-states like Afghanistan and Pakistan”. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for a bombing at Afghanistan’s Kabul airport during the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from that country, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.
  • At least two Uzbek ISIS terrorists have been convicted on U.S. terrorist charges in the past few years.

  • As Fox News reported in May, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek national and Islamic extremist, was convicted in New York City and given 10 life sentences plus 260 years for an attack in which he drove a truck down a bike path in NYC on October 31, 2017 (Halloween), killing eight and injuring over a dozen others — many of whom had life-altering injuries.
  • The counts on which Saipov was convicted included murder in aid of racketeering and providing material support to ISIS. “[P]rosecutors describ[ed] the event as the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.”

  • That attack took place just four days after Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, a 27-year-old immigrant and native of Uzbekistan, received a 15-year sentence in federal court in Brooklyn "after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State (IS) militants".
  • As DOJ explained after Juraboev was sentenced:

    [I]n August 2014, Juraboev posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS. In subsequent interviews by federal agents, Juraboev stated his belief in ISIS’s terrorist agenda, including the establishment by force of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Juraboev stated that he wanted to travel to Syria to fight on behalf of ISIS but lacked the means to travel. He added that, if he were unable to travel, he would engage in an act of martyrdom on U.S. soil if ordered to do so by ISIS, such as killing the President or planting a bomb on Coney Island. During the next several months, Juraboev and a co-conspirator discussed plans to travel to Syria to fight on behalf of ISIS, culminating in Juraboev’s purchase on December 27, 2014, of a ticket to travel from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, to Istanbul, Turkey, departing on March 29, 2015.

  • When I headed the National Security Law Division at the former INS, I would regularly report to the attorney general and the commissioner of the INS on the apprehension of any illegal migrant from any terrorist-sending country; few were ever released, and none were cut loose without a thorough national-security vetting.
  • Apparently, Border Patrol agents are simply releasing those aliens now of their own accord.

  • In its final report, which was published 19 years ago in the summer of 2004, the 9/11 Commission explained:

    In the decade before September 11, 2001, border security — encompassing travel, entry, and immigration — was not seen as a national security matter. Public figures voiced concern about the “war on drugs,” the right level and kind of immigration, problems along the southwest border, migration crises originating in the Caribbean and elsewhere, or the growing criminal traffic in humans. The immigration system as a whole was widely viewed as increasingly dysfunctional and badly in need of reform. In national security circles, however, only smuggling of weapons of mass destruction carried weight, not the entry of terrorists who might use such weapons or the presence of associated foreign-born terrorists.

  • Those lessons have either been forgotten or ignored by the Biden administration, which has placed the interests of illegal migrants over the security of the American people.
  • Why do I say that? Consider the following exchange between host Bret Baier and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the May 1, 2022, edition of “Fox News Sunday”. Baier asked the secretary: “Is it the objective of the Biden administration to reduce, sharply reduce, the total number of illegal immigrants coming across the southern border? Is that the objective?”
  • Mayorkas responded: “It is the objective of the Biden administration to make sure that we have safe, legal, and orderly pathways to individuals to be able to access our legal system.” And by “to be able to access our legal system”, the secretary meant to apply for asylum.

Lessons from the (Unlamented) 2000 National Commission on Terrorism. Aside from my eight years as an immigration judge, I spent most of my 25 years of federal service dealing with and responding to the “special interest aliens” Bensman describes. My colleague Dan Cadman and I appeared before the National Commission on Terrorism, which was convened and issued its report more than a year before the 9/11 attacks. I won’t speak for Cadman, but to be honest, most of my more serious concerns fell on deaf ears.

Even then, however, the commission concluded that:

Countering the growing danger of the terrorist threat requires significantly stepping up U.S. efforts. The government must immediately take steps to reinvigorate the collection of intelligence about terrorists' plans, use all available legal avenues to disrupt and prosecute terrorist activities and private sources of support.

Among those who received and reviewed that report was then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) when he was the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I know that because he questioned the lead commissioners during a June 15, 2000, committee hearing on that report, and submitted a rather complete statement about it for the record.

As president, Biden has apparently forgotten even the watered-down messages of the 2000 National Commission on Terrorism, and in particular its recommendation that the United States must “use all available legal avenues to disrupt and prosecute terrorist activities”.

Disrupting terrorist activities starts at the border as the later (and more competent) 9/11 Commission found. But despite the administration’s protestations to the contrary, the Southwest border is open, and our enemies know it. If you don’t believe the border’s open, ask the missing Uzbek migrants — assuming our government ever finds them.