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New bill would require feds to screen border crossers against terror watch list

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(The Center Square) – A congressman from north Texas has introduced a bill that would require federal agents to screen everyone who enters the country illegally against the federal terrorist watch list.

The bill was introduced as more than 200 known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) have already been apprehended attempting to enter the country this fiscal year.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican whose district lies west and northwest of Fort Worth, introduced HR 7733, the Identifying Potential Terrorist at the Border Act of 2024. It would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to “take into and maintain custody over an alien until the commissioner cross references the name of such alien with the terrorist screening database and a result for such cross reference is received by the commissioner.”

When announcing the bill, Williams said, “We are a land of laws, and it is past time this Administration acts like it. [President] Joe Biden is encouraging a deadly invasion of fighting-age men on American soil and each day this Democrat-created influx of illegal aliens allows bad actors to slip past Border Patrol undetected.”

Williams, Texas’ Secretary of State under former Gov. Rick Perry, last month also introduced a bill to have the federal government reimburse Texas for its border security costs.

Current law does not require illegal border crossers to be screened against the terrorist watch list. CBP agents at ports of entry and Border Patrol agents between ports of entry do follow the practice and apprehend KSTs.

Every month, CBP reports the number of KSTs apprehended at the northern and southern borders. CBP Office of Field Operations agents working at land ports of entry are tasked with stopping “inadmissables,” or illegal foreign nationals, including KSTs, as well as contraband, prior to U.S. entry. U.S. Border Patrol agents working between ports of entry patrolling the borde are tasked with apprehending foreign nationals, including KSTs, who’ve already illegally entered the U.S.

General practice has been to screen inadmissibles against the Terrorist Screening Dataset, the federal database that contains sensitive information on terrorist identities. It originated as a consolidated terrorist watchlist “to house information on known or suspected terrorists 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,” CBP explains.

“Under current law, CBP is not required to screen migrants against the terrorist watchlist database, and as we have seen too often, dangerous criminals are released into our nation who go on to harm American citizens and communities,” Williams said. “Now more than ever, we must be aware of who is in our country as Republicans fight to restore law and order and end Biden’s deadly open border policies that are destroying America.”

In fiscal 2023, the greatest number of KSTs, 736, were apprehended at the northern and southern borders, The Center Square reported. A significant majority – 66% – were apprehended at the northern border, 487; 249 were apprehended at the southwest border.

The apprehension data excludes gotaways, which Border Patrol agents and others have warned inevitably includes KSTs. “Gotaways” is the official CBP term that refers to those who illegally enter the U.S. between ports of entry, don’t return to Mexico or Canada, and are not apprehended. An estimated two million have illegally entered since January 2021, The Center Square has reported. However, Border Patrol chiefs say this number is underreported by an estimated 20%.

The trend is continuing in fiscal 2024. The fiscal year started Oct. 1, 2023, and goes through Sept. 30, 2024. KST northern border apprehensions outpaced those at the southwest border in the first quarter of fiscal 2024, The Center Square reported.

As of Jan. 26, 2024, 144 KSTs were apprehended, the majority, 90, were apprehended at the northern border.

As of March 22, the total number climbed to 210, according to CBP data. The majority, 127, were apprehended at the northern border; 83 were apprehended at the southwest border.

The number of KSTs apprehended under the Biden administration has increased every year. In fiscal 2022, 478 KSTs were apprehended, up from 173 apprehended in fiscal 2021.

Last fall, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the U.S. Senate about terrorist threats facing Americans including from Iranians. More than a month after he spoke, northern border agents apprehended an Iranian with terrorist ties.

Retired FBI officials also warned Congress in January that a terrorist attack was likely imminent and preventable.

Earlier this month, Wray testified again before the Senate acknowledging that a smuggling organization working with the terrorist group ISIS is funneling criminals through the U.S. border. He said the FBI was investigating its operations that “we’re very concerned about.”

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