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Friday, July 19, 2024

Northern Border Migrant Encounters at ‘Record Highs’ as Terror Watchlist Encounters Grow

DHS assesses that "terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States."

Security on the northern border of the United States is a growing concern as migrant encounters with border enforcement have “reached record highs,” as noted in the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Threat Assessment 2024, and terror watchlist encounters have soared past last year’s numbers.

The Department of Homeland Security said on Sept. 14 that it scrapped its periodic National Terrorism Advisory System bulletins in favor of an annual Homeland Threat Assessment report and said that the issuance of NTAS advisories would be “reserved for situations where DHS needs to alert the public about a specific or imminent terrorist threat or about a change in the terrorism threat level.”

The new Homeland Threat Assessment 2024 has sections on public safety and security including terrorism, illegal drugs, malinformation and mis/disinformation, and transnational repression; border and immigration security including migration and watchlist encounter trends and transnational criminal organizations; critical infrastructure security including disruptive and destructive attacks as well as espionage against critical infrastructure; and threats to economic security including economic manipulation and malign influence, economic espionage, and financially motivated cyber attacks.

In August statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there have been 170,565 encounters on the northern border (134,944 single adults and 34,953 family units) so far this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, compared to 109,535 in fiscal year 2022. In FY 2021, there were 27,180 encounters on the northern border.

Comparatively, the southwest land border has been the site of 2,206,039 encounters this fiscal year. In FY 2022, there were 2,378,944 encounters with border enforcement on the southwest border.

“The complex border and immigration security challenges we have faced over the last year are likely to continue,” the DHS assessment states. “Although encounters with migrants have declined from record highs in December, migrants seeking entry to the United States are still arriving at a rate that is on pace to nearly match 2022 total encounters.” The assessment attributes “some monthly decreases” to migrants “exploring new legal pathways or the expressed fear of penalties for irregularly crossing following the lifting of the Title 42 Public Health Order.”

“We expect continued high numbers of migrant encounters over the next year because traditional drivers of migration to the United States remain unchanged and frustration with waiting for legal migration pathways may grow,” DHS says, adding that “while our southern border remains the primary vector for migration, migrant encounters along the northern border have reached record highs.”

The HTA notes that “increased migration from the Eastern Hemisphere has exacerbated border security challenges in FY 2023, partly because many of these migrants require additional processing and repatriation resources.”

“Encounters of migrants from the Eastern Hemisphere doubled from over 110,000 in FY 2022 to over 228,200 through June 2023,” the assessment continues. “We expect the influx of these migrants will continue as they face poor economic, political, security, and climate conditions in their countries and use uneven visa policies across the globe to reach the United States.”

DHS assessed that “terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States” as “individuals with potential terrorism connections continue to attempt to enter the homeland.”

As of updated statistics released Sept. 15, CBP has encountered 505 individuals on the terror watchlist at ports of entry since the beginning of the current fiscal year and 154 between ports of entry, according to updated statistics.

Of those intercepts at ports of entry, 429 occurred at the northern border and 76 at the southwest border. In fiscal year 2022, 313 encounters occurred at the northern border and 67 at the southwest border.

Of those stopped by border enforcement between ports of entry, three occurred at the northern border and 151 at the southwest border. In fiscal year 2022, all 98 encounters occurred at the southwest border.

The Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS) originally consisted of known or suspected terrorists but has expanded over the years to include individuals such as relatives or affiliates of watchlisted people as well as members of Transnational Criminal Organizations.

Watchlist encounters this fiscal year account for 0.0084 percent of all U.S. Border Patrol encounters, CBP said.

The Homeland Threat Assessment said that criminal organizations “likely will seek new technologies and develop novel techniques to improve their ability to evade our border security measures,” noting that “Mexico-based TCOs, including human smuggling organizations, are leveraging small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to enhance and protect their operations.”

“In 2022 and 2023, US officials observed human smugglers using commercially available UAS to monitor migrants and law enforcement across the border,” the assessment said. “Drug traffickers also use small commercial UAS to augment drug smuggling and to surveil US and Mexican law enforcement activities, helping them avoid some interdiction operations.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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