Arrest of allegedly ISIS-linked suspects adds terror fears to open border crisis

"How much longer will we let this madness continue?" House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green asked.

Published: June 12, 2024 11:00pm

While authorities, security experts, and conservative border hawks have long warned that the ongoing security situation at the southern border could permit entry by hostile actors, the recent arrest of multiple suspects linked to the Islamic State has reignited fears of potential terrorist activity.

Authorities this week arrested a group of suspects with suspected links to the Islamic State across multiple major American cities, including Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, ABC News reported. The individuals in question reportedly crossed the southern border last year after originally traveling from Tajikistan. The suspects reportedly raised no security concerns upon their initial entry but authorities ultimately turned up links to the Islamic terror group.

All three cities in which the arrests occurred are "sanctuary cities" and it is not known at this time whether local law enforcement assisted with the raids.

"Over the last few days, ICE agents arrested several non-citizens pursuant to immigration authorities. The actions were carried out in close coordination with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces,” the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. “The individuals arrested are detained in ICE custody pending removal proceedings. As the FBI and DHS have recently described in public and partner bulletins, the U.S. has been in a heightened threat environment. The FBI and DHS will continue working around the clock with our partners to identify, investigate, and disrupt potential threats to national security."

Tajikistan has become a hotbed of terrorist recruiting activity in recent years and Tajik nationals are among the suspects in the Crocus City Hall massacre near Moscow in March. While the arrests have renewed scrutiny of the border situation in light of the security risks, such warnings have been mounting throughout the Biden administration’s tenure.

“Almost weekly we are getting reports that someone with terrorist ties or other major criminal connections has been released into our country by the Biden administration and allowed to roam free for months or even years,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., said in a press release.

“Such bad actors exploiting our borders used to be the exception—it’s quickly becoming the rule under President Biden and now-impeached Secretary Mayorkas,” he added. “It’s only a matter of time before one of these individuals connected to a terrorist group is involved in something devastating on U.S. soil, and this administration will be responsible. How much longer will we let this madness continue?”

Scope of illicit entry

U.S. Customs and Border Protection have reported 9.9 million nationwide encounters from fiscal year 2021 through April 2024. At the southwest land border alone, that figure stood at 8.1 million over the same period. 

It is not, however, the southwest border that has prompted the largest amount of security concern, but the northern border. CBP data reveals that the agency has reported 172 Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS) encounters at points of entry on the northern border in fiscal year 2024 thus far. By contrast, a mere 24 occurred at points of entry on the southern border in the same period. In fiscal year 23, moreover, authorities reported 564 total encounters, of which 484 were at the northern border. 

TSDS encounters between points of entry, however, were noticeably higher at the southern border, with 80 such incidents being reported thus far in fiscal year 2024. By contrast, only 1 TSDS encounter occurred between ports of entry on the northern border.

Amid a noteworthy surge in TSDS encounters in mid-2023, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said that "[w]hile the Biden Administration conveniently avoids even thinking about the Southern border, terrorists understand fully that the border is a point of weakness for our country.”

"Biden’s open border policy is a dangerous vulnerability for our national security, and these numbers only prove that terrorists are exploiting that weakness,” he added.

Means of entry

At least one of the suspects reportedly entered the U.S. via the CBP One app, according to NBC News. The app is run through the Department of Homeland Security and permits would-be entrants to the United States to schedule an appointment at a point of entry to face processing.

The app has come under fire over alleged use by cartels in human trafficking operations as well as its reported vulnerability to VPNs to allow users to circumvent geographic restrictions. A report from the House Homeland Security Committee in October of last year drew further concern in light of the DHS’s high rate for granting parole to applicants from hostile nations through the app.

Between Jan. 12, 2023, and Sept. 30, 2023, the app processed 278,431 appointments, resulting in roughly 95.8% securing entry into the U.S. via parole. Of particular concern to the panel were the high rates of admission for foreigners from hostile nations such as Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus, China, and Venezuela.

DHS admitted 94% of the 20,948 Russians who made appointments through CBP One in that period. It further admitted 93% of the 246 Afghans, 97% of the 57,381 Venezuelans, 98% of 801 Belarusians, 88% of 18 Iranians, 88% of 36 Chinese, and 82% of 2,279 Uzbeks.

"Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas has utterly abused the CBP One app in his quest for open borders,” Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., said at the time. "These numbers are proof that Mayorkas' operation is a smokescreen for the mass release of individuals into this country who would otherwise have zero claim to be admitted.”

"At a time when global tensions are rising, and our enemies are growing bolder, releasing tens of thousands of these people into our communities—especially when they have not received adequate, if any, vetting—is irresponsible,” he added.

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