Federal law enforcement officials have identified a high number of individuals with Middle Eastern names traveling with Mexican passports, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Since the beginning of 2022, nearly 30,000 Mexican passport holders were flagged as part of the investigation into passport fraud, the memo states, adding that each identified individual will be further evaluated. A senior official at DHS who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the agency will likely investigate whether any of the individuals have traveled to the United States and whether there are any other patterns in their travel.
The concern over fraudulent passports comes as a surge of illegal migrants at the southern border overwhelms the immigration system. With hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to enter the country each month, Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies often lack resources to properly vet who is entering the country. DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last year that the United States risks losing its "first line of defense" because of the "unsustainable" amount of illegal immigration at the border.
There are fears that terror groups such as al Qaeda could take advantage of the strained immigration system. Last April, for example, two Yemeni nationals on the terrorist watch list were apprehended at the southern border. Law enforcement officials appear concerned that bad actors could abuse the legal travel system to enter the country with passports obtained from Mexico, and enter the United States legally. Roughly 20 million Mexican citizens easily travel to the United States as tourists each year, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
"This investigation highlights that criminals often use legal travel to facilitate criminal activity," the senior DHS official told the Free Beacon. "The nexus to Mexico should cause the public and lawmakers to reflect on how a porous border can be even more dangerous."
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
The concerning passports were identified by the agency's National Targeting Center, the memo states. The lesser known subagency, created shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "works quickly and quietly to identify people and products that pose potential threats to our Nation’s security, and to stop them from entering the United States," according to a 2014 public memo.
The National Targeting Center also assists Immigration and Customs Enforcement with deporting money launderers and child predators, the senior DHS official said. The National Targeting Center regularly partners with other agencies on investigations involving terrorism or global criminal networks.
The agency uses naming conventions specific to different regions to automatically pinpoint the most likely nationality of individuals—in Mexico, for example, individuals typically keep two surnames, one from each parent. In much of the Arab world, individuals can be given much longer names which often include an entire chain of ancestors on the father's side.
FBI director Christopher Wray testified in the Senate earlier this month that the border crisis "represents a significant security issue and represents a wide array of criminal threats that flow out of it."
"Any port of entry, any potential vulnerability is something we know foreign terrorist organizations and others will seek to exploit," Wray said.
Customs and Border Protection does not provide complete data on the total number of suspected terrorists apprehended at the southern border, citing security concerns. A joint report from the Department of Justice and DHS concluded that 2,554 individuals on the terror watch list attempted to enter the United States in 2017.