- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Border Patrol apprehended a record 20 terrorism suspects in September, bringing the total for fiscal 2022 to nearly 100 and closing out the most chaotic 12-month period in border history.

On all the major yardsticks — illegal entries, gang members, convicted criminals, fentanyl and suspected terrorists — the situation got dramatically worse over the past year as smuggling cartels took advantage of the Biden administration’s more relaxed approach to the southern border.

All told, Customs and Border Protection reported nearly 2.4 million encounters with unauthorized migrants at the southern border in fiscal 2022, which ended last month. Of those, 2.2 million were caught by Border Patrol agents as they tried to sneak in, and the rest were encountered at ports of entry demanding to be let in without authorization.

Each of those numbers is believed to be a record, and they left Republicans seething — not least because the Department of Homeland Security released the numbers just before midnight Friday, in what critics said was a futile attempt to bury bad political news.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” the Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee said in a statement.

In September alone, CBP encountered 227,547 illegal immigrants at the southern border. That was the third-highest month on record, topped only by April and May of this year.

SEE ALSO: Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar says southern border ‘is not secure’ amid record apprehensions

Among them were 20 terrorism suspects nabbed by the Border Patrol as they tried to sneak in along the southern border. That’s a monthly record, topping the previous high of 15 set in May.

It brought the total for fiscal 2022 to 98, shattering previous highs.

In 2021, the Border Patrol nabbed 15. From 2017 to 2020, during the Trump years, the Border Patrol nabbed a total of just 11 terrorism suspects entering from Mexico.

Experts say the terrorism numbers, like fentanyl seizures and overall illegal crossings, are leading indicators of the chaos at the southern border: When more are caught, it means even more are likely getting through.

Border Patrol agents say terrorism suspects in particular were dumb enough to get caught or didn’t know they were on the watch list. Those who did know and were trying to sneak into the U.S. were doing so amid the chaos.

Last year brought a chilling reminder of that. A man prosecutors connected to the Islamic State group was charged with trying to sneak a hit squad into the U.S. in a plot to assassinate former President George W. Bush. According to an informant, the man bragged that he had already smuggled in two Hezbollah figures and charged them $50,000 each.

SEE ALSO: More voters trust GOP over Democrats to handle key issues of economy, crime, immigration, says poll

CBP reported seizing 14,700 pounds of fentanyl, the deadly synthetic opioid that has sent overdose death rates soaring. That’s up from 11,200 pounds the previous year and 4,800 pounds in 2020, the final year under President Trump.

The Border Patrol said it caught 751 known or suspected gang members over the past year — more than in 2020 and 2021 combined. More than 300 of those were tied to MS-13, the brutally violent gang that stretches from Central America to the U.S.

The Border Patrol also nabbed 12,028 convicted criminal migrants over the past year, up from 10,763 in 2021 and 2,438 in 2020.

Like the terrorist suspect numbers, agents say, when more are caught, more are getting through.

The 2022 numbers come on top of 1.7 million illegal immigrants CBP encountered in 2021, challenging the Biden administration’s insistence that the border is secure.

“No, the border is not secure,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday.” “When you had 1.7 million individuals last year, and now another 2.7 [million], that’s over 4.5 million individuals encountered at the border. Plus, if you add the getaways, that’s going to be over 5 million individuals in just two years.”

The fiscal year ran from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022.

CBP didn’t report how many of the 2.4 million total illegal immigrants it encountered were released into the country, but based on partial data the agency submitted in a court case earlier this year, it is hundreds of thousands and could reach 1 million.

That’s in addition to estimates of roughly 600,000 “gotaways” — migrants Border Patrol agents detected coming across but weren’t able to catch.

Immigration analysts said the U.S. enforcement system was designed to stop Mexicans. In recent years, it has struggled to handle the flow from Central America. Now, it is completely unprepared to adjust to the surging numbers from farther afield, with Venezuelans now constituting the most acute challenge.

Just five years ago, Mexico and northern Central American nations accounted for 96% of unauthorized border crossers, the Migration Policy Institute said. In fiscal 2022, they made up 57% of the crossers.

The Venezuelan surge has forced the Biden administration to adopt the get-tough approach that the Trump administration used. President Biden tore it down when he took office.

Under a program announced this month, Homeland Security has opened a pathway to temporary status for 24,000 Venezuelans who go through a pre-check. The department said it would shove others back across the border into Mexico.

The first of the 24,000 arrived over the weekend.

CBP said the program is already paying off, with a severe drop in Venezuelans jumping the border.

“While this early data is not reflected in the latest report, it confirms what we’ve said all along: When there is a lawful and orderly way to enter the country, individuals will be less likely to put their lives in the hands of smugglers and try to cross the border unlawfully,” said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

Homeland Security has said it will consider expanding the program if it works.

That would earn a new round of withering criticism from immigrant rights groups that say the Biden administration should open its arms wider, not shut down pathways illegal immigrants take.

• Ramsey Touchberry contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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