Illegal immigrants from Middle Eastern countries have been caught and arrested by Border Patrol agents on the United States-Mexico border since the start of the month, a cause for concern in light of the Hamas terror attack in Israel, according to a Republican senator.
Sen. Steve Daines of Montana visited the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas Wednesday to learn how people were traveling through sometimes more than a dozen countries to get to the United States and was alarmed by the number of people coming into the country, particularly those who could not be chased down.
“Since the first of October, Border Patrol agents have apprehended individuals from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya. Malaysia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Yemen,” Daines said in a media call following his visit. “This is just in the last 10 days.”
Concern over the threat of terrorism has grown since this weekend’s terrorist attack in Israel by Hamas militants who killed more than 1,000 Israelis, as well as raped, tortured, and beheaded women and infants during the hours-long attack. Along with the deaths in Gaza, the toll is at least 1,800 lives lost, including 11 Americans.
Since the start of fiscal 2023 last October through August, Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico boundary have caught 151 non-U.S. citizens who, after being processed, were determined to be on the FBI’s terror watch list for being a terrorist or affiliated with someone who was.
The 151 figure, which Daines highlighted during the call, is the highest annual number in the Border Patrol’s 99-year history, surpassing the previous record of 98 people in 2022 and 15 people in 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
“I’m very concerned about potential sleeper cells that can be coming across our southern border. I asked Border Patrol agents how Syrian, how Lebanese, how Middle Eastern country citizens can come in, and they told me they fly first and foremost to a airport in the Middle East — could be Saudi Arabia, could be in Dubai — and then from there, they take a flight to Colombia,” Daines said. “Then from Colombia. They’re taking a trip oftentimes by bus across Central America, across Mexico [to] our southern border.”
Daines said four men from Syria were arrested during his visit to McAllen, Texas, whom he stopped by to see during his visit to Border Patrol’s adult processing center.
“I chatted with a Cuban young man who had just come across the border and was literally sitting outside the McAllen airport, flying up to Boston. And we asked, ‘How much did it cost you to come across the border?'” Daines said. “He said, ‘$4,000.’ He paid a Mexican cartel $4,000 to get him across the border. And now he’s got his flight up to Boston — a guy who had just come across the border within the last day. There were two Venezuelans with similar stories, $3,000 to $4,000 to Mexican cartels.”
More than 10,000 illegal immigrants from special interest countries Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, and Syria had been arrested at the border between October 2021 and October 2023, according to CBP data published in a Fox News report Tuesday.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson who responded to a request for comment following publication said the government was not aware of any new threats to the U.S. in light of recent events, but was carefully monitoring events at the border.
“While we do not have specific and credible intelligence indicating a threat to the United States at this time stemming from the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, DHS is closely monitoring unfolding events and will continue to engage in information sharing with our intelligence and law enforcement partners at home and abroad,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “This information sharing helps ensure that we are positioned to help mitigate any risks to national security or public safety. Our multilayered border security efforts include various screening and vetting processes that work to detect and prevent individuals who pose national security or public safety risks from entering the United States.”
DHS earlier this week pointed to protocols that it has in place to screen immigrants at the border, as well as airports, seaports, and land points of entry, against criminal and terrorism databases. However, immigrants can only be screened against U.S. criminal databases, so arrests and convictions in other countries remain unknown to federal police.
Daines was not satisfied with the Biden administration’s approach to border security but did applaud its decision to build 20 miles of border wall across the Rio Grande Valley in hopes that it would prevent more “gotaways.”
“Gotaways, in other words, you’ve laid eyes on him, either physically or through video cameras, but never had a chance to stop them and interview them,” Daines said. “Who are these 1.5 million gotaways that are in our country? And those are just the ones that we saw on video cameras and physical eyes.”