In November, a notable security concern was highlighted when Border Patrol officers identified 17 individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list attempting to illegally enter the United States via the southern border.
These incidents were not isolated; they were part of an alarming trend that has been observed throughout the Financial Year (FY) 2023.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data reveals an unprecedented rise in the number of known terrorists attempting to cross the U.S. southern border, with a record 169 individuals detected in FY 2023.
Patterns and Precedents: Historical Context
Historically, the southern U.S. border has been a point of contention, but recent developments have intensified concerns.
In addition to the 17 individuals apprehended in November, there were 13 entries by individuals on the watch list caught outside a port of entry in October, and another 49 apprehended attempting entry at a U.S. port of entry since October for FY 2024.
The terror watch list, maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, contains identifying information of known and suspected terrorists and their affiliates.
As stated on the CBP website, “Encounters of watchlisted individuals at our borders are very uncommon, underscoring the critical work CBP Agents and Officers carry out every day on the frontlines.”
Unseen Threats: The Risk of ‘Gotaways’
The increase in individuals on the terror watch list attempting to enter the United States is particularly concerning, as it represents only those processed by Border Patrol.
The potential of other individuals on the list evading law enforcement, being among the many “gotaways” getting through the porous and underresourced border, remains a significant threat.
This concern is further amplified by recent global events, such as Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the subsequent war, which have led to heightened vigilance regarding potential terrorist entries into the United States.
Crisis at the Border: Record Illegal Immigration
FY23 broke the record for illegal immigrant encounters, with over 242,000 illegal immigrants processed by Border Patrol at the southern border in November alone—the third-highest monthly record. Notably, nearly 80 percent of these apprehensions were for border crossings outside of legal ports of entry.
This marked increase in illegal crossings has not been seen in previous years, with historic CBP data indicating that U.S. border officials had never logged more than 80,000 encounters in any given November prior to 2022.
Repeat Offenders: Challenges in Asylum Procedures
The complexity of the situation is further compounded by the fact that of the 191,113 November Title 8 apprehensions, more than 6,300 were illegal immigrants attempting another entry into the United States after already being removed by law enforcement for failing to meet the necessary requirements for asylum.
This highlights the challenges in managing asylum procedures and enforcing immigration laws effectively.
Legislative Response: Funding and Security Measures
In response to these challenges, Congress is negotiating a $105 billion supplemental funding bill that combines funding for border security with support for international conflicts.
The Biden administration has allocated $14 billion towards enhancing border personnel and staff to process asylum claims.
However, Republicans are advocating for more stringent border security measures, including the completion of the border wall in gaps between ports of entry, and limitations on the use of humanitarian parole.
The Need for Comprehensive Solutions
The situation at the U.S. southern border underscores the need for a multifaceted approach to border security, one that balances humanitarian concerns with the imperative of national security.
The increasing number of encounters with individuals on the terror watch list, combined with the surge in illegal immigration, highlights the complexity of the challenges faced by border officials and policymakers alike.
As the debate over funding and security measures continues, the ultimate goal remains clear: to ensure the safety and security of the United States while upholding its values and responsibilities as a nation.