by Jennie Taer
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities flagged 74,904 illegal migrants nationwide for potentially posing risks to national security between October 2022 and August, according to CBP data obtained exclusively by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Certain illegal migrants are deemed to be “special interest aliens” because they may have travel patterns that “possibly have a nexus to terrorism” or may come from countries with such ties, according to a 2019 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet. Border Patrol agents encountered 25,627 “special interest” illegal migrants in fiscal year 2022, compared to 3,675 encounters in fiscal year 2021, according to internal agency data previously obtained by the DCNF; however, this data doesn’t account for all CBP encounters of special interest aliens.
“Generally, an SIA is a non-U.S. person who, based on an analysis of travel patterns, potentially poses a national security risk to the United States or its interests. Often such individuals or groups are employing travel patterns known or evaluated to possibly have a nexus to terrorism. DHS analysis includes an examination of travel patterns, points of origin, and/or travel segments that are tied to current assessments of national and international threat environments,” the DHS definition of special interest aliens states.
“This does not mean that all SIAs are “terrorists,” but rather that the travel and behavior of such individuals indicates a possible nexus to nefarious activity (including terrorism) and, at a minimum, provides indicators that necessitate heightened screening and further investigation,” DHS adds.
Illegal migrants can be deemed special interest aliens based solely on their country of origin, such as Turkey or Uzbekistan, according to an internal Border Patrol document previously obtained by the DCNF.
The FBI is currently searching for a group of more than one dozen Uzbek migrants that federal authorities released into the country after they used an ISIS-tied smuggler to cross the southern border illegally.
Former acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan told the DCNF it’s alarming that federal authorities chose to release illegal migrants who were known to be special interest aliens.
“So why is it so important to track them down? Because they’re freaking special interest aliens that were smuggled in by somebody with connections to terrorism. Come on, guys. Follow the bouncing ball. I mean, the reason it’s so important is twofold. One, they actually were connected to someone who is connected to a terrorist organization and [two], they’re special interest aliens,” Morgan said.
Special interest aliens are different from illegal migrants whose names appear on the terror watchlist, according to DHS. Individuals whose names appear on the terror watchlist as potential terrorists are “reasonably suspected to be engaging in, has engaged in, or intends to engage in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism and/or terrorist activities.”
CBP has seen a surge in individuals on the terror watchlist attempting to enter the U.S. in recent years. Border Patrol recorded 149 individuals trying to enter the country illegally so far in fiscal year 2023, which is up from 98 in all of fiscal year 2022 and 16 in fiscal year 2021, according to agency data.
Border Patrol has recorded more than 1.6 million illegal migrant encounters nationwide, according to federal data.
“When you have an open border, you don’t get to control who or what enters your home,” former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott previously told the DCNF of the surge in special interest aliens. “There are significant real threats coming across the border.”
DHS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Jennie Taer is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Illegal Immigrants” by John Modlin.