by Bethany Blankley
Nearly 300 suspected terrorists have been apprehended attempting to enter the U.S. in the first few months of fiscal 2023 as 28 members of Congress formed a new caucus to address the crisis at the northern border, where record numbers of foreign nationals continue to illegally enter from Canada.
The Northern Border Security Caucus, formed by U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, and Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, is expressing concerns about “the increased human and drug trafficking, along with the decrease in Border Patrol agents and lack of security, along the U.S.-Canada border.”
They did so as U.S. Customs and Border Protection released apprehension data for February, which appears to publicly report for the first time those on the terrorist watch list (Terrorist Screening Dataset) who were apprehended at ports of entry and between ports of entry. Historically, it didn’t make the distinction or publicly report ports of entry apprehensions.
The TSDS includes information about known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) “but has evolved over the last decade to include additional individuals who represent a potential threat to the United States, including known affiliates of watchlisted individuals,” CBP says.
In January, The Center Square reported on 38 known or suspected terrorists apprehended in the first three months of fiscal 2023. But the newly reported CBP data shows the number is nearly 10 times greater.
This fiscal year through February, 70 KSTs were apprehended between ports of entry at the southern (69) and northern (1) borders, according to the data.
During the same timeframe, agents apprehended 214 KSTs at ports of entry: 176 at the northern border and 38 at the southern border.
Combined, fiscal 2023 through February, agents apprehended 284 KSTs – with the majority apprehended at the northern border.
In just five months, agents apprehended nearly as many KSTs as they did at northern border ports of entry in fiscal 2022 – 313 – up from 54 KSTs apprehended at them in fiscal 2021.
Zinke argues the northern border has been left “unprotected and vulnerable to criminals, cartels and terrorists” because far more agents “are dealing with [President Joe] Biden’s crisis on the Southwest border.”
The northern border is the longest international border in the world, spanning 5,525 miles. Fourteen states share the U.S.-Canada border; 13 to Canada’s south and Alaska to its west. Four states share 1,954 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, with Texas sharing the most of 1,254 miles.
Due to record numbers of illegal entries along the northern border, including record apprehensions in Vermont and upstate New York, and reported deaths near northwest Minnesota, the caucus is demanding Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas secure the northern border.
In a letter sent to Mayorkas, a majority of caucus members said the “surges in border encounters and drug smuggling coupled with the shortage of Border Patrol agents and lack of security measures place America’s northern border at serious risk.”
They also point out that Border Patrol staffing at the northern border has remained flat since fiscal 2009, hovering around 2,000 agents tasked with patrolling some of the most difficult terrain. Despite being short-staffed, they recorded a 596% increase in drug seizures in fiscal 2022 from fiscal 2021. Since January 2021, they’re apprehensions have increased by a record 1,498%, the caucus says.
The caucus cites apprehension data that excludes gotaways – illegal foreign nationals that agents identified who evaded capture and didn’t turn back to Canada. By comparison, Border Patrol agents in nine southwest border sectors reported nearly 360,000 gotaways in fiscal 2023 through February.
“The numbers don’t lie: the Biden administration’s open-border policies have allowed for a surge in human and drug trafficking across the U.S.-Canadian border,” Kelly said in a joint statement. “Over the last two years, every state has become a border state. I’ve spoken with Border Patrol officials in my home state of Pennsylvania who tell me they are pulling double duty – they are digitally processing migrants who are apprehended at the Southern border while now also trying to defend the Northern border. Migrants and smugglers are seeking alternative routes into the United States, and the Northern border is increasingly their first stop. Our goal is to provide commonsense, practical solutions that will increase security across all of America’s borders.”
“Business is booming for cartels smuggling humans and drugs across the open Southern border so it would be ridiculous to think that they wouldn’t expand their operations to the North,” caucus member Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-New York, said. “You don’t have to be a betting man to be able to predict that this was going to happen when the Administration is projecting a giant neon sign declaring ‘we’re open’ with no consequences. We need to stop this now, before it balloons even more out of control – the security of our citizens and our nation are at serious risk.”
Not all caucus members are from northern states. Some include those representing Texas and Louisiana, for example.
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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square.