Mayorkas Pressed to Explain Terror-Listed Illegal Immigrants Released Into US
Mayorkas Pressed to Explain Terror-Listed Illegal Immigrants Released Into US

By Tom Ozimek

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is facing renewed pressure to explain the circumstances of inadmissible aliens on the terrorist watchlist being released into the United States rather than being held in custody until deportation.

A group of Homeland Security Republicans expressed serious concern in an April 3 letter to Mr. Mayorkas about unanswered questions regarding DHS’s current practices in processing and releasing known or suspected terrorists into the United States.

“We are now facing a consistent stream of cases highlighted in the news of aliens allegedly on the terrorists watchlist either being apprehended at the border or discovered in the interior,” they wrote.

Their concern comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data show that there’s been a whopping 3,000-plus percent increase (comparing former President Donald Trump’s term and that of President Joe Biden’s so far) in the number of people on the FBI’s terror watchlist caught trying to enter the country illegally.

The lawmakers—including House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-Texas)—expressed particular concern about the number of terrorist gotaways.

The number of terrorist gotaways could be alarmingly high if it tracks with the 3,000-plus percent rise in the number of apprehended illegal immigrants on the terror watchlist between the Trump and Biden presidencies.

‘Serious Red Flags’ for National Security

The GOP lawmakers complained in their letter to Mr. Mayorkas that their prior multiple requests for information from DHS regarding terrorist illegal immigrants have gone unanswered.

They noted a number of recent cases of people on the terror watchlist being released into the United States—with one “particularly concerning” case involving a man recently arrested in North Carolina following a four-hour standoff with police. The individual, Awet Hagos, was later found to have been on the terror watchlist—and that he had been residing in the area for six months.

Another case involved a known Somalian member of the al-Shabaab terror group, who was allowed to roam free in the United States for almost a year due to a terror watchlist screening “mismatch.” A subsequent screening “redetermination” confirmed the individual as a “terrorist member of al-Shabaab,” leading to his eventual arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in January 2024, per the lawmakers.

A third case involved Basel Bassel Ebbadi, who the lawmakers said admitted in a sworn interview that he was an active member of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group—and that he reportedly said he was in the United States trying to make a bomb. He was arrested near El Paso, Texas, on March 9, after crossing the border illegally.

The lawmakers noted that the Committee on Homeland Security held a March 20 hearing to examine the growing activity in the United States by Iran-backed terror groups and the implications for homeland security.

“This hearing raised serious red flags for the national security of the United States and reiterated the Committee’s concerns with the number of aliens on the terrorist watchlist being discovered in the United States or at the Southwest border,” the lawmakers wrote.

They also cited FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony on March 11 before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which he said he was “very concerned” about a human smuggling network with ties to the ISIS terror group.

The Republican committee members demanded information from Mr. Mayorkas relating to the processing and detention procedures for inadmissible aliens on the terrorist watchlist.

They also demanded information on the number of aliens released into the United States who were on the terrorist watchlist since January 2021, the month President Biden took office.

The GOP lawmakers also requested clarification on DHS’s policies and procedures for determining the processing disposition of an individual identified on the terror watchlist, including how deportation determinations are made.

A DHS spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email that it will respond to the letter directly through official channels and that the agency will “continue to respond appropriately to Congressional oversight.”

The spokesperson added that DHS, along with its intelligence, counterterrorism, and law enforcement partners, screens and vets individuals prior to their entry into the United States to prevent those who pose a terror threat from coming in.

CBP screens and vets every encountered individual and if they’re found to pose a threat to national security or public safety, they’re detained and removed, or referred to other agencies for further vetting or prosecution, the spokesperson added.

Illegal immigrants cross into the United States from Mexico to be processed by Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas, on May 8, 2023. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Terror Threat in Focus

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data show that, so far this fiscal year, agents have encountered 140 individuals on the FBI’s terror watchlist trying to enter the United States, with 70 of them caught trying to enter illegally between ports of entry.

During the four years of former President Trump’s presidency, the total number of people on the terror watchlist caught trying to enter the country illegally between ports of entry amounted to 11.

By contrast, so far under President Biden, who Republicans say has adopted an “open borders” policy, that number is 351.

That’s a whopping 3,091 percent increase.

However, the difference is basically non-existent when comparing the number of people on the terror watchlist who were encountered at ports of entry. Under President Trump, that figure stood at 1,418, while under President Biden (which only includes about half of the current fiscal year and so will increase), that number currently stands at 1,241.

It remains unclear whether there was a difference in the number of terrorist gotaways or terrorists released into the United States between President Trump and President Biden.

If Mr. Mayorkas honors the GOP lawmakers’ request for information, that comparison could be forthcoming.

Republicans, who blame President Biden and his administration’s policies for record numbers of illegal immigrants pouring into the country, have repeatedly raised concerns about the associated national security threat.

In October 2023, a group of Republican senators sounded the alarm after Border Patrol agents caught illegal border crossers carrying explosives that Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said were “tailor-made for terrorism.”

It comes as Mr. Mayorkas faces an impeachment inquiry for his handling of the border crisis, with House impeachment managers expected to present to the Senate two counts of impeachment on April 10.

*This article has been updated with comments received from DHS.

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