By Savannah Hulsey Pointer
The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discovered “multiple mistakes” that led to the release of an illegal immigrant whose name appeared on the FBI’s terror watch list.
In a June 28 report (pdf), the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) detailed the Yuma, Arizona, arrest of an illegal immigrant and their family on April 17, 2022, and the subsequent release of one of the individuals by Border Patrol two days later. The release took place after the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) determined the individual was an inconclusive match on the terror watch list.
Two days later, on April 21 in Palm Springs, California, the illegal immigrant and their family checked in for a flight to Tampa, Florida.
It was then the FBI obtained additional information from TSA and determined the illegal immigrant a positive watch list match, informing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who contacted the ICE subsidiary office in Tampa.
According to the report, the illegal immigrant missed the flight from California but rebooked the flight to Florida the following day. On May 6, the suspected terrorist was apprehended by ICE in Florida.
The OIG explained the inquiry, saying, “We conducted this evaluation to review Customs and Border Protection’s screening process of a suspected terrorist and the timing of ICE’s subsequent arrest following the suspected terrorist’s release into the United States.”
The report released by the inspector general discovered that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not provide the TSC with the necessary information to corroborate the illegal immigrant’s presence on the watchlist.
It highlighted a request to interview the illegal immigrant that was sent to the incorrect address, information that was obtained but not shared by officials, and the premature release of the individual before there was full coordination between agencies.
“This occurred because CBP’s ineffective practices and processes for resolving inconclusive matches with the Terrorist Watchlist led to multiple mistakes,” the report says.
The report also includes testimony from a Border Patrol agent at the Yuma processing center, who stated that he and his coworkers were attempting to respond to emails from CBP’s National Targeting Center but were unable to do so because they were too occupied processing an increased influx of illegal immigrants.
Agents told investigators that Yuma’s center was over capacity, placing them under pressure to process migrants swiftly and reducing the time they had to review each file.
The discharge of the individual occurred during a month in which there were over 235,000 encounters with illegal immigrants.
In the meantime, the report stated that ICE officials explained that although the agency prioritized the arrest, its Fugitive Operations did not receive the illegal immigrant’s file for eight days after the request was made.
According to data cited by officials in the IG report, ICE’s Yuma office receives approximately 1,000 alien files once or twice a week that it must sort, package, and dispatch to Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) offices across the country.
The IG suggested that DHS implement procedures to better maintain email distribution lists, identify and share best practices for resolving inconclusive terror watch list matches, and provide ICE with immediate access to GPS data.
“We made three recommendations to ensure CBP effectively resolves inconclusive Terrorist Watchlist matches and ICE has immediate access to Global Positioning System data relevant to its law enforcement operations,” the IG report said.
The report brought a backlash from DHS, which accused the Inspector General of sensationalizing the case.
“This OIG report sensationalizes and mischaracterizes a complex case, in which CBP and ICE personnel took appropriate steps to ensure there was no threat to the public,” a DHS spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
“Noncitizens encountered by CBP are thoroughly screened and vetted, and any individual determined to pose a threat to national security or public safety is detained.”
According to a DHS official providing context on the case, the report’s title and framing are misleading. At the time of the individual’s release, CBP had no prior notice that they were a confirmed match with the Terrorist Screening Data Set (TSDS).
However, once the individual’s status was confirmed, the DHS collaborated with federal and local law enforcement partners to take appropriate action.
The official explained that the screening center had informed CBP that they were unable to determine if the individual matched the TSDS based on biometric and biographic information.
To maintain continuous knowledge and monitoring of the individual’s location, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed them on an Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, which included the use of an ankle monitor.
Later, according to the DHS spokesperson, when the match on the TSDS was verified, the FBI notified ICE, prompting them to initiate an arrest of the terror suspect.
DHS also asserts that the report inaccurately characterizes the arrest timeline, saying that the individual’s location was continuously monitored through their ATD device, and they were placed under surveillance by local ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations personnel once it was discovered they were on the terror watch list.
A DHS spokesperson went on to reiterate the agency’s dedication, telling The Epoch Times, “The Department of Homeland Security is committed to protecting the American people and safeguarding our borders, and the Department is constantly working to improve information sharing and execute our vital mission.”
The FBI responded to The Epoch Times, saying they had no comment on the issue.