Intelligence officials told the White House in a classified briefing that individuals with ties to terrorist groups may be illegally crossing the southern border, contradicting claims by Democrats that the immigration crisis does not constitute a national security threat.
Immigrants with connections to Islamic terrorist groups have begun taking advantage of what one senior Customs and Border Protection official called "a porous border." In April, border patrol officers arrested two Yemeni nationals on a terrorist watch list. National security officials have pledged to assist officers in counterterrorism operations at the U.S.-Mexico border to help the strapped agency handle the influx of threats, according to a memo reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
The classified report on Yemeni nationals received "positive feedback" from senior Biden officials, according to one government document. It remains unclear whether the Biden administration ordered the study, which was written by Customs and Border Protection in conjunction with the National Counterterrorism Center. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
"Our southern border is too easy to cross and everyone knows it, but unfortunately securing the border has become a partisan issue with Republicans in favor and Democrats against," Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) told the Free Beacon after reviewing the government document. "But let me tell you who doesn’t care about our domestic partisan politics: human traffickers exploiting vulnerable women and children from Central America, and those that wish to do us harm."
Customs and Border Protection officials have recorded a surge in foreign nationals arriving on the southwest border from outside Latin America in recent months. Individuals from as far away as India are attempting to seek asylum in the United States, claiming the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the economy in their home countries. The revelation underscores challenges facing the United States as it sees some of the highest levels of illegal immigration in recent history.
Democrats have downplayed national security risks associated with illegal immigration for years, alleging that such stories are nothing more than a false pretense for the GOP to crack down on the border.
Multiple Democrats accused House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) of lying when he said terror suspects had been caught at the border. On March 15, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.) said McCarthy was either "wrong or lying." Rep. Veronica Escobar (D., Texas) said claims of terrorists crossing the border were used "to fuel the divisions" in the country. And Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) called GOP questions about the issue "hysteria" and "not about the safety of Americans." Omar went as far as to say that investigations into whether terrorists are infiltrating the southern border are "dangerous and violent for those that are the least fortunate in our immigration population." None of the Democrats responded to requests for comment.
McCarthy said it is no surprise that America's enemies would attempt to exploit the border crisis. He accused the administration of publicly playing politics with the border even as it privately acknowledges potential threats.
"President Biden and Vice President Harris’s own policies created the crisis at the southern border. Not only do they continue to ignore the crisis, but their message that the border is open has been heard around the world," McCarthy said. "Border patrol agents told us that it was not just people from Central and South America attempting to cross our border, but people from overseas countries thousands of miles away, including Yemen. And despite the increased security concerns, the vice president—the government official appointed to oversee the border crisis—has gone 70 days without traveling to the border."
Monitoring the southern border for suspected terrorists has long been a priority for immigration authorities. Critics of the Biden administration say Democratic policies have incentivized illegal immigrants from around the world to try to enter the country. The record number of border crossings have overwhelmed Customs and Border Protection officials, making it far more difficult to flag or monitor individuals with suspected ties to terrorist groups or hostile regimes.
"Terrorist and transnational criminal organizations are well aware of the stress immigration officials are facing. They're monitoring us from across the border and then sending kids and family groups over. Once the agents respond, the cartels increase smuggling activities because they know we've deployed resources which are limited," a senior border patrol official told the Free Beacon. "Terror groups understand how these operations work and can exploit vulnerabilities to their benefit."
That cat-and-mouse game is backed by intel within Customs and Border Protection, the official said. Cartels and terrorist organizations closely watch publicly available border-apprehension numbers to know when law enforcement is spread thin.
The White House has publicly deferred questions on the topic to individual agencies. Although Biden's National Security Council has received reports on terrorist threats from the southern border, his administration has tried to maintain distance from the problem.
"Well, first, let me convey that these types of incidents are very uncommon," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on April 6 when asked about the apprehension of the two Yemeni nationals. "And [Customs and Border Protection] and [the Department of Homeland Security] can speak more to the timeline and the specifics, of course, in these particular cases and encounters. But encounters of known and suspected terrorists are very uncommon."
Rubio said the administration is acting in bad faith when it downplays border threats publicly, even as it acknowledges the gravity of the situation behind closed doors.
"We need to take the threat seriously and take immediate action to secure our border because terrorists are looking to exploit this known weakness," he said.
Pinpointing the exact number of suspected terrorists apprehended on the border remains difficult. Customs and Border Protection, which did not respond to a request for comment, does not provide complete data on such apprehensions because of national security concerns. A report from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security released in 2018 said 2,554 individuals on the terrorist watch list tried entering the country in 2017, which is about seven per day.