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Homeland Republicans Demand Answers on CBP’s Policy Regarding Apprehended Individuals on Terrorist Watchlist After Alarming Mayorkas Testimony

April 3, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green, MD (R-TN), Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX), and Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement Chairman Clay Higgins (R-LA) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting information and documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pertaining to the processing and detention procedures for inadmissible aliens on the terrorist watchlist, also known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS).

In January 2024, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested an illegal alien in Minnesota who belonged to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab. The individual had lived freely in the country for nearly a year after being caught and released by Border Patrol crossing the border in San Ysidro, California, in March 2023. Last month, a leaked CBP memo revealed an illegal alien from Lebanon, who was apprehended between ports of entry in March 2024, admitted to belonging to the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah during an interview with the Border Patrol. According to the memo, Basel Bassel Ebbadi told agents he wanted to travel to New York and make a bomb.

In November 2023, during the Committee’s annual Worldwide Threats hearing, Secretary Mayorkas refused to confirm that all individuals on the TSDS who are apprehended by the Border Patrol are subsequently detained until their removal. In the same hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed that joint terrorism taskforces in FBI field offices across the country are dealing with potential threats from inadmissible aliens crossing the Southwest border.

Read more in NewsNation via Joe Khalil.

In the letter, the Chairmen wrote, “According to recent news reports, DHS arrested at least two known terrorists in January 2024, who had been released into the United States. Since February 1, 2024, Committee staff has contacted DHS several times to confirm and clarify the facts surrounding these reports; however, our questions have not been answered. The first case involves a member of the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization al-Shabaab. According to a news report, the alien was “caught illegally crossing the southern border near San Ysidro, California on March 13, 2023;” however, he was deemed a “mismatch” and was subsequently released into the interior.”

“The second case involves a Pakistani man allegedly on the terrorist watch list who illegally entered the United States but was apprehended by the Border Patrol the following day. Less than two weeks later, the Terrorist Screening Center confirmed his status on the “terror watchlist;” however, ICE eventually released him through the Alternatives to Detention Program. 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. Two of these, which occurred last month, are particularly concerning.”

The Chairmen concluded, “The Committee is concerned with DHS’s current practices in processing and releasing known or suspected terrorists encountered at the Southwest border. This concern is amplified following the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 11, 2024, where he stated that he is “very concerned” about a human smuggling network with ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”

Read the full letter here.


Over 350 individuals on the terrorist watchlist have been apprehended attempting to illegally cross our Southwest border between ports of entry since the beginning of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021—an over 2,000 percent increase compared to all of FY2017-2020. Individuals from more than 160 countries have been apprehended crossing the border illegally, including aliens from countries on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Homeland Republicans continue to conduct rigorous oversight of the administration’s response:

  • In March 2024, Chairman Green led a closed session hearing with testimony by witnesses from DHS, the FBI, the Department of State, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to examine the growing malicious activity by Iranian-backed terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis, and other Iranian threats such as recent plots against U.S. officials and transnational repression by the regime on U.S. soil. 
  • In October 2023, Chairmen Green, Higgins, and Pfluger demanded documents and information from Secretary Mayorkas after an internal document was leaked warning CBP personnel that Iran-backed terrorists could be inspired by the heinous October 7 terrorist attacks on our ally, Israel, to illegally cross our Southwest border. 
  • In September 2023, Chairmen Green, Bishop, Higgins, and Pfluger demanded answers from DHS and the FBI following reports that Uzbek nationals were smuggled to the Southwest border by an individual with ties to ISIS. 
  • In May 2023, Chairman Green joined Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) on a letter to Secretary Mayorkas, investigating how DHS is handling the elevated national security risk presented by an increasing number of known or suspected terrorists illegally crossing our Southwest border. That month, Chairmen Green, Pfluger, and Higgins also sent a letter to Secretary Mayorkas and FBI Director Wray, investigating the reported arrests of an Afghan national and a Pakistani national on the TSDS, who were apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in early May 2023. 
  • In the Committee’s Phase Two interim report on Secretary Mayorkas’ handling of the border crisis, Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens told Committee staff during a May 2023 interview that he was “absolutely” concerned that the high flow of illegal aliens through the Del Rio Sector was impeding his agents’ ability to reduce the number of gotaways. The Committee is concerned this could allow suspected terrorists the opportunity to cross our borders undetected.