CIS Sues Biden Administration for Terror Suspect Border-Crossing Data

By Todd Bensman on October 24, 2023
A U.S.-bound immigrant obviously from the Kyrgyz Republic
A U.S.-bound migrant obviously from the Kyrgyz Republic, which is listed by U.S. intelligence agencies as a nation of national security concern, in Matamoros, Mexico, waiting for his CBP One appointment to cross the bridge for parole into the United States. May 2023 photo by Todd Bensman.

The Center for Immigration Studies has again sued U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), this time for records reflecting the nationalities and group affiliations of the record-breaking 270 illegal border-crossers who have flagged on the FBI terrorism watch since 2021.

The Center sued on October 13 with a filing that seeks to enforce Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements that government agencies respond to requests within certain time limits. This lawsuit centers around CIS’s August 11, 2023, FOIA request for information reflecting the nationalities of watch-listed suspected terrorists apprehended after illegally crossing the southern border between ports of entry, as well as group affiliations and crossing areas.

The suit comes amid heightened national interest in terrorist border crossings as war in the Middle East escalates, raising fears about the potential for retaliation against U.S. backing for Israel or that some migrants from the region may strike impulsively in their emotional distress about the news.

“CIS believed filing this suit was necessary for multiple reasons,” said Colin M. Farnsworth, the center’s Chief FOIA Counsel. “There is a heightened public interest in the requested records, and there are indications CBP is imposing unreasonable delays on the processing of those records,” Farnsworth continued. “For example, CBP’s demonstrated its ability to timely respond to other FOIA requests CIS submitted after the August 11 request, but it has yet to provide any response to the August 11 request, despite CIS’ inquiries into the matter.”

“Therefore, in this case, in order to receive the records CIS and the public are entitled to in a timely manner, CIS filed suit against CBP for violating its FOIA obligations,” Farnsworth said.

For many years, major U.S. media outlets and even some quoted former intelligence officials would insist that no terrorist suspects ever crossed the southern border. But assertions like those quickly dried up in April 2022, when CBP began publishing the monthly number of border-crossers who were on the FBI's terrorism watch list.

As the current historic mass migration crisis ground on at the southern border, the spiking numbers of suspected terrorist crossings has attracted escalating concern on Capitol Hill and in the homeland security establishment. In 2021 alone, the CBP website reported 98 suspected terrorist illegal crossings in the brush between land ports of entry in FY 2022, and 150 more in 2023 (15 were caught in 2021). For perspective on these numbers, my 2021 book America's Covert Border War: The Untold Story of the Nation's Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration, quoted intelligence officials saying that American authorities caught only about 100 on the FBI watch list for all of the five years between 2012 and 2017.

But while the CBP website discloses raw numbers of suspected terrorists captured while crossing, the data offers very few elucidating details that would sate rising public interest and concern, such as whether some of those apprehended might be affiliated with Hamas or Hezbollah. Or how the people of other origin countries might feel about any given U.S. foreign policy or intervention at any given time, as a potential indicator of danger posed by those crossing the border from those regions.

CIS tailored the FOIA request to exclude personally identifying information to avoid compromising any ongoing law enforcement investigations and intelligence collection efforts. CIS believes, however, that countries of origin and group affiliation would serve the public interest while doing nothing to compromise ongoing homeland defense activities.