Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday dismissed the significance of suspected terrorists sneaking into the country via the southern border, saying it was “not a new phenomenon.”
US Customs and Border Protection confirmed Tuesday that four people on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist have been apprehended since October at the US-Mexico border. Three were from Yemen and one was from Serbia.
Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee that’s nothing new.
“If I may, a known or suspected terrorist — KST is the acronym that we use — individuals who match that profile have tried to cross the border, the land border, have tried to travel by air into the United States not only this year, but last year, the year prior, so on and so forth,” Mayorkas said at a hearing.
“It is because of our multi-layered security apparatus — the architecture that we have built since the commencement of the Department of Homeland Security — that we are in fact able to identify and apprehend them and ensure that they do not remain in the United States. And so we actually deny them entry based on our intelligence and based on our vetting procedures, which have only grown in sophistication throughout the years.”
He added, speaking over Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC), “That is not a new phenomenon.”
Most suspected terrorists stopped by US border security officials are detected at international airports, rather than after illegally crossing the border.
According to a fact sheet from the Department of Homeland Security, there were 3,755 known or suspected terrorists stopped at the US border or at airports in fiscal 2017. In fiscal 2018, six terror suspects from Yemen and Bangladesh were reportedly detained at the southern border.
Mayorkas confirmed that suspected terrorists do not have a right to illegally cross the border to claim asylum, responding to a question from Bishop.
“Actually, sir, no,” he said.
Mayorkas testified amid a surge in migrants crossing the US-Mexico border following President Biden’s inauguration.
Mayorkas said that “I do not” believe Biden’s immigration policies triggered a migrant surge.
In February, about 30 percent of the people crossing the border were under 18. There were 29,792 unaccompanied children detained without their parents — about five times more than in January — of whom 2,942 were under age 12, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
The overall number of people apprehended along the Mexican border increased to more than 100,000 in February, a 28 percent jump from January.
The Biden administration has housed unaccompanied children in increasingly crowded detention camps pending possible placement with family or sponsors. But single adults are deported to Mexico under a Trump-era COVID-19 rule, as are families, if Mexican officials have room to house them, federal officials say.
Mayorkas again refused to call the migrant surge a crisis — despite acknowledging that figures are on pace to be the highest in 20 years.
“Congressman, we have a very serious challenge and I don’t think the difficulty of that challenge could be overstated. We also have a plan to address it,” he said in response to whether there was a crisis.