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House leaders demand answers from Mayorkas on terrorists being released into US

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Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security are demanding answers from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas after learning that Border Patrol agents are releasing known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) into the country.

The demand comes after leading the charge to impeach Mayorkas in February and after FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress expressing concerns about those illegally entering the U.S. with ties to the terrorist group ISIS.

In fiscal 2023, the greatest number of KSTs, 736, were apprehended at the northern and southern borders, The Center Square reported. This fiscal year, as of March 22, 210 known or suspected terrorists were apprehended attempting to illegally enter the U.S., according to CBP data. The majority are being apprehended at the northern border.

House Republicans are expressing concerns about those who weren’t being caught, or were being caught after they were released into the U.S.

U.S. Reps. Mark Green, R-Tenn., August Pfluger, R-Texas, and Clay Higgins, R-Louisiana, sent a letter Wednesday to Mayorkas requesting information about U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing and detention procedures for inadmissible aliens already identified on the Terrorist Screening Dataset, the federal database that contains sensitive information on terrorist identities.

Green chairs the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security; Pfluger chairs the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence; Higgins chairs the Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement.

“The committee is concerned with DHS’s current practices in processing and releasing known or suspected terrorists encountered at the Southwest border,” the lawmakers wrote.

They also said that since Feb. 1, 2024, their staffs have contacted DHS several times to confirm and clarify the facts surrounding reports of KSTs being released into the country.

“However, our questions have not been answered,” they said. “In addition to these unanswered requests for information, we are now facing a consistent stream of cases highlighted in the news of aliens allegedly on the terrorist watchlist either being apprehended at the border or discovered in the interior.”

They cite several examples. One includes a Somali who’d been in the country illegally for a year and was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Minnesota. The Somali, reportedly a member of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, was caught and released by Border Patrol agents in San Ysidro, California, in March 2023.

Another includes a Lebanese man with ties to the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah. He was apprehended between ports of entry in March 2024 and reportedly told federal agents he planned to travel to New York and make a bomb.

Another includes an Eritrean man who last month opened fire on a convenience store where he worked, allegedly attacked law enforcement officers and later engaged in a stand-off with officers from his camper van in North Carolina. He reportedly illegally entered the U.S. after living in Haiti and has been living in North Carolina for six months.

In another case, a Pakistani man illegally entered the U.S. and was apprehended by Border Patrol agents. Less than two weeks later, the Terrorist Screening Center confirmed he was on the terror watchlist. Despite this, ICE agents released him through Mayorkas’ Alternatives to Detention Program, a program identified by the lawmakers as illegal.

The committee notes that over 350 illegal foreign nationals identified as KSTs have been apprehended attempting to illegally cross the southwest border between ports of entry since the beginning of fiscal 2021.

It fails to note that nearly three times as many have been apprehended at the northern border over the same time period – a total of 981. Northern border apprehensions of KSTs consistently outnumber southwest border apprehensions, The Center Square has reported. This fiscal year, the trend continues; 127 KSTs have been apprehended at the northern border compared to 83 at the southwest border.

The letter was sent after – at a November 2023 committee hearing – Mayorkas would not confirm that those identified as KSTs and apprehended by Border Patrol agents were detained until they were removed from the country. It was also sent after the committee has held several hearings about threats posed to Americans by the terrorist groups Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS, and those with ties to them illegally entering the country.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, introduced a bill to require federal agents to screen everyone who enters the country illegally against the terrorist watch list in another attempt to block illegal entry of those who wish to commit harm against Americans.