A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said border encounters with individuals on the terror watch list are in fact 'very uncommon.'
GOP lawmakers have ramped up their xenophobic claims of a "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border following reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had arrested two Yemeni men on the FBI Terrorism Watch List attempting to enter the country near a legal port of entry in California.
CBP announced Monday that the two men, 33 and 26, were on the "no-fly list" and had been arrested separately on Jan. 29 and March 30, not far from the port of entry in Calexico.
GOP lawmakers pounced, linking the news to President Joe Biden and saying the arrests were proof Biden had created a so-called border "crisis" by rolling back harsh immigration policies put in place by Donald Trump — a crisis experts have said repeatedly does not actually exist.
Rep. Brian Mast (FL) tweeted on Tuesday, "President Biden’s open border policies created the crisis at our southern border. Now, terrorists are trying to exploit Biden’s open border. President Biden, it's time to put American’s safety first."
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) tweeted on Monday, "Joe Biden declared open borders and now terrorists are trying to take advantage. #BidenBorderCrisis."
"America’s enemies will take advantage of our unsecured border. President Biden must reverse course," Sen. Tom Cotton (AK) tweeted that same day.
CBP itself has said arrests of individuals on the FBI watch list are rare, and experts have stated repeatedly that there is no looming terror threat waiting just across the border, as Republicans claim.
"[E]ncounters of known and suspected terrorists at our borders are very uncommon," a CBP spokesman said in a statement, adding that the arrests simply highlighted the necessity of proper vetting.
The State Department too, has said in multiple annual reports that there is no reliable evidence of terror threats setting up outposts in Mexico to attempt border crossings.
"There was no credible evidence indicating international terrorist groups established bases in Mexico, worked directly with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States," the department's 2019 report read.
Reports in 2017 and 2018 yielded similar findings.
"A count of real terrorists who have crossed the Mexican border since 2001 and wanted to harm Americans would be very short: it would contain zero names," immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute said in a 2018 report. "Three people entered the U.S. illegally through the Mexican border in 1984 and grew up to be terrorists who were convicted of planning an incompetent plot in 2008."
As Jason M. Blazakis, who leads the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, told the Washington Post, "Bottom line: Most terrorists are already here — they are American citizens these days."
"They are part of groups like the Proud Boys and the Atomwaffen Division," he added.
Additionally, similar arrests were made under the Trump administration, something GOP lawmakers have failed to point out.
The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security released a 2018 joint report that said officials in fiscal year 2017 encountered 2,554 people on the terrorist watch list allegedly attempting to enter the United States. It noted, however that around 13% of the individuals tried to come in by land, while most tried by plane.
DHS also said in 2019 that over 3,700 individuals on the terror watch list were similarly denied entry in the United States in 2017, with most attempting to gain entry by air travel.
The Terrorist Screening Database shows that 41 people on federal watch lists were encountered at the border from October 2017 to March 2018. Of those, six were non-U.S. individuals and 35 were lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens, NBC News reported in 2019.
Meanwhile, experts say GOP warnings of a border crisis aren't based in reality. According to the government's own data, the rise in border apprehensions in recent weeks is largely due to seasonal spikes and repeat attempts by those turned away previously under Title 42, an expulsion order enacted by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration over public health concerns stemming from the pandemic.
Those continuing to make their way to the border are likely doing so due to threats of violence or poverty in their home countries, immigration advocates say.
As Shalyn Fluharty, who leads the legal aid group Proyecto Dilley, told the Washington Post in March, "Nobody is coming to the U.S. for fun. They face really significant danger in their home countries and Mexico."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.