The brutal terror attack that Hamas launched against Israel last week is intensifying Republican concerns about what they see as an unsecured border and a historic migrant crisis that has left Border Patrol agents overwhelmed.
“We are vulnerable when we have all these military-age men coming in. Do you think that our enemies have not been looking at that weakness?” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on CNN this week.
DeSantis pointed to border encounters of migrants from Iran, Russia, China and the Middle East: “That is not good for the security of this country.”
Fox News reported this week that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has encountered thousands of “special interest aliens” since 2021. “Special interest aliens” are people from countries identified by the U.S. government as having conditions that promote or protect terrorism or potentially pose some sort of national security threat to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the number of encounters with people on the terror screening data set, known as the watchlist, hit a new record in FY 2023. There were 154 encounters at the northern and southern borders among ports of entry — more than the last six years combined, and 505 encountered at the ports of entry.
These watchlist hits are people who were stopped, and it does not mean that those encountered are terrorists, with not only suspected terrorists but family members and associates being included on the list. There have been no publicly reported incidents of Border Patrol agents encountering Hamas operatives. However, it has raised concerns about who might be getting past Border Patrol agents as “gotaways.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green said this week that the “open border is the biggest national security threat we face today.”
Sen. Ted Cruz said on his podcast this week that “the risk of a serious terrorist attack in the United States is right now greater than it has been any time since September 11.”
“I think there’s a confluence of a number of factors. One, obviously, the most significant war in Israel in 50 years, the most significant attack on Israel in 50 years. Number two, two-and-a-half years of open borders on our southern border, 7.6 million people coming in illegally including a significant number of people on the terrorist watch list, and an exposure that there could be a significant number of terrorists from countries in the Middle East who have come into this country in the past two and a half years,” Cruz said.
Mark Morgan, a former acting CBP commissioner during the Trump administration, told Fox News Digital that the attack “should serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to pay attention to the alarms we have been sounding for a while that border security is synonymous with national security.”
“Global Islamic extremists’ commitment to do harm to the U.S. is unwavering and just as strong as it was 22 years ago, and this attack should push away our false sense of security with respect to our own intelligence capabilities — we have a vast amount of intelligence gaps, and we are not infallible,” he said.
It has raised concerns at the northern border as well. Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., have introduced a resolution to recognize the “influx of known or suspected terrorists through America’s northern border as a threat to national security.”
Kelly noted that the “majority of suspected terrorists caught this year have crossed between the U.S. and Canada, which is the longest continuous border between two countries in the entire world.”
“The first thing bad guys do is go where the good guys aren’t. Right now, all our good guys are dealing with Biden’s crisis on the Southwest border, leaving the north unprotected and vulnerable to criminals, cartels and terrorists,” Zinke said.
On Wednesday, DHS told Fox News Digital that DHS does “not have specific and credible intelligence indicating a threat to the United States at this time stemming from the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.”
The DHS spokesperson added the department is “closely monitoring unfolding events and will continue to engage in information sharing with our intelligence and law enforcement partners at home and abroad.”
“This information-sharing helps ensure that we are positioned to help mitigate any risks to national security or public safety,” the spokesperson said. “Our multilayered border security efforts include various screening and vetting processes that work to detect and prevent individuals who pose national security or public safety risks from entering the United States.”
At the same time, DHS has acknowledged the potential risk. Its threat assessment warned that terrorists and criminals “may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
“Individuals with terrorism connections are interested in using established travel routes and permissive environments to facilitate access to the United States,” the assessment also said.
“I’ve never been more concerned about the safety and security of this nation than I am right now,” former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan told “FOX & Friends First” on Thursday.
“I’m telling you, something’s coming. I don’t know how many terrorists have crossed the border, but someday we’re going to find out, and it’s going to be a bad day for America.”
Fox News’ Bill Melugin, Griff Jenkins, Andrew Mark Miller and Elizabeth Heckman contributed to this report.