This marks a notable increase compared to last year when border officials encountered roughly 100 individuals on the watchlist. The increase has alarmed officials at the Department of Homeland Security. (Related: US border crisis persists: Thousands of migrants continue to cross daily despite the summer heat.)
The annual assessment cited a record number of migrant arrivals as a significant complicating factor for border and immigration security over the past year. The report also highlights the expectation of continued high numbers of migrant encounters in the upcoming year.
This expectation is driven by factors such as the persistent motivations for migration to the U.S. and potential growing frustration with the limited availability of legal immigration pathways.
However, the report also raises concerns about the possibility of terrorists and criminal actors exploiting this heightened flow and the increasingly complex security environment to gain entry into the United States.
Homeland Security officials emphasized that every individual encountered at the border undergoes rigorous biometric and biographic screening and vetting.
Customs and Border Protection has also expanded its information-sharing agreements with international partners to enhance its ability to prevent, detect and investigate various crimes, including human trafficking.
The report tried to downplay the issue, noting that encounters with known or suspected terrorists at the Southern Border are extremely rare, representing significantly less than 0.01 percent of total encounters annually in recent years.
It added that these encounters may involve individuals who are not themselves known or suspected terrorists but may have associations with individuals on the watchlist, including family members.
The report linked the increase in encounters with individuals on TSDB to the soaring number of travelers from the Eastern Hemisphere coming to the U.S. over the past year.
This surge in travelers from regions where terrorism is a concern has necessitated additional processing and repatriation resources. Individuals can end up on the watchlist because of their associations with known watchlisted individuals or their direct involvement in terrorist activities.
This underscores a broader trend of individuals from conflict zones worldwide seeking to migrate to the Western Hemisphere, ultimately targeting the United States.
In addition to the concerns related to terrorism, the report anticipates that the threat of domestic terrorism will remain high but unchanged in 2024.
It also identifies illicit drugs produced and imported from Mexico as the primary threat to American lives.
It's important to note that Border Patrol officials have reported a growing number of people on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's terror watchlist encountered not only at the southern border but also at the northern border.
TSDB contains sensitive information on known or suspected terrorists and individuals who represent a potential threat to the United States. When individuals on this list are encountered at the border, they may be detained, removed or turned over to another agency for detention or law enforcement action if necessary.
However, it's worth noting that most individuals on the terrorist watchlist are still permitted to fly within the U.S., with only a small subset placed on the "No Fly" list, a decision made exclusively by government agencies.
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