By: Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor
Nine months into fiscal 2023, more known or suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the northern and southwest borders than in all of fiscal 2022.
So far this fiscal year, 525 known or suspected terrorists have been apprehended attempting to illegally enter the U.S. compared to 478 last fiscal year.
The majority being apprehended are at the northern border. Fiscal year to date, 323 were apprehended at the northern border compared to 313 last fiscal year.
These numbers don’t include known or suspected terrorists who illegally entered the U.S. but evaded capture, referred to as “gotaways” by Customs and Border Patrol, which total more than 1.7 million in the U.S. since January 2021.
With people illegally entering the U.S. from over 170 countries, former ICE Chief Tom Homan told The Center Square some of these countries they are coming from are sponsors of terrorism.
“If you don’t think a single one of the 1.7 million is coming from a country that sponsors terrorism, then you’re ignoring the data,” he said. “That’s what makes this a huge national security issue.”
Over the last two fiscal years, more KSTs were apprehended at the northern border than at the southwest border. In fiscal 2022, 165 were apprehended at the southwest border; this fiscal year to date, 201 have been.
Overall, apprehensions of KSTs over the last two fiscal years have outnumbered previous fiscal years with the exception of fiscal 2019.
Most news outlets have misreported terrorism apprehension data because they solely report southwest border apprehensions between ports of entry. Most reported 98, for example, who were apprehended at the southwest border last fiscal year. However, the total apprehended was 478.
The reason for the discrepancy is because KSTs are primarily apprehended two different ways by two different types of agents.
Office of Field Operations agents, who wear blue uniforms, work at land ports of entry, screening people arriving by land, air and sea. Among other things, they are tasked with stopping “inadmissables,” or illegal foreign nationals, KSTs and a range of other people or contraband prior to entering the U.S.
Border Patrol agents, who wear green uniforms, work between ports of entry, patrolling the border to apprehend foreign nationals who’ve already illegally entered the U.S.
OFO agents working at northern ports of entry over the past two years apprehended the majority of KSTs. OFO agents have also historically apprehended more KSTs at ports of entry than Border Patrol agents between ports of entry due to varying factors.
So far this fiscal year, OFO agents apprehended 321 KSTs at northern border ports of entry and 61 KSTs at southwest border land ports of entry. Border Patrol agents apprehended 140 KSTs between ports of entry on the southwest border and three between ports of entry along the northern border.
Combined, they apprehended 525 fiscal year to date; 323 at the northern border and 201 at the southwest border, as of July 18, when the CBP data was last updated.
The Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS) is the federal database that contains sensitive information on terrorist identities, CBP explains. It originated as a consolidated terrorist watchlist “to house information on known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) but evolved over the last decade to include additional individuals who represent a potential threat to the United States, including known affiliates of watchlisted individuals.”
By comparison, OFO and Border Patrol agents combined apprehended a total of 478 KSTs in fiscal 2022, 173 in fiscal 2021, 199 in fiscal 2020, 541 in fiscal 2019, 357 in fiscal 2018, and 353 in fiscal 2017.