"Our top priority is to keep terrorists and their weapons from entering the United States."
So says the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The same webpage that makes this declaration includes a table that provides some relevant data for the fiscal years from 2017 to 2023. It lists how many individuals on the Terrorist Screening Dataset (commonly known as the terrorist watchlist) were encountered by the Border Patrol as they were trying to illegally sneak into the United States between the ports of entry on our southern border.
The Terrorist Screening Dataset, says the webpage, "originated as the consolidated terrorist watchlist to house information on known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) but has evolved over the last decade to include additional individuals who represent a potential threat to the United States, including known affiliates of watchlisted individuals."
In fiscal 2017, when Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, the Border Patrol encountered just two individuals on the terrorist watchlist trying to sneak across the southern border between the ports of entry. In fiscal 2018, it encountered six. In fiscal 2019, it encountered none; and, in fiscal 2020, it encountered three.
In fiscal 2021, the year President Joe Biden was inaugurated, there was a substantial shift in the trend. That year, the number of individuals on the terrorist watchlist that the Border Patrol encountered trying to sneak across the southern border increased fivefold to 15.
Then, in fiscal 2022, it climbed to 98. So far in fiscal 2023, which isn't even half over yet, the Border Patrol has encountered 69 individuals on the terrorist watchlist trying to sneak across our southern border between the ports of entry.
How many on the terrorist watchlist have actually succeeded in illegally crossing our southern border into the United States? There is no way to know.
What we do know is that it only took 19 foreign terrorists who had made their way into the United States to hijack four domestic flights on Sept. 11, 2001.
While the Border Patrol managed to catch 98 on the terrorist watchlist trying to illegally cross our southern border between the ports of entry last year, is it possible there were 19 the Border Patrol did not catch?
There has also been a massive upward trend in the number of aliens the Border Patrol has "apprehended" or "encountered" as they tried to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border between the ports of entry.
In the fiscal years from 2014 to 2018, the largest number of aliens the Border Patrol apprehended trying to cross the southern border between the ports of entry was 479,371 in 2014. In 2019, it rose to 851,508; but, in 2020, it fell back to 400,651.
That year, after the COVID pandemic hit, President Trump invoked Title 42 of the U.S. code to require that people who unlawfully entered the country — posing a risk of bringing COVID with them — could be immediately expelled rather than released into the United States to await proceedings in immigration court. With this rule in place, the Border Patrol started reporting the total number of illegal border crossers it stopped as those it "encountered" as opposed to those it apprehended.
"Under this order, CBP is prohibiting the entry of certain persons who potentially pose a health risk, either by virtue of being subject to previously announced travel restrictions or because they unlawfully entered the country to bypass health screening measures," said a statement from Customs and Border Patrol. "To help prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into border facilities and into the United States, persons subject to the order will not be held in congregate areas for processing and instead will immediately be expelled to their country of last transit."
Then Joe Biden was elected president.
"President Joe Biden has wasted no time making changes to the nation's immigration and border policies, many of them a 180-degree reversal of former President Donald Trump's restrictive policies," The Arizona Republic reported.
"On his first day in office, Biden signed six executive orders and issued several more directives related to immigration and border security," said the Republic. He also proposed legislation, as the Republic reported it, that would "provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants" who had arrived in the United States by Jan. 1, 2021.
The result? In fiscal 2021, the number of individuals that the Border Patrol encountered as they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border jumped to 1,734,686. In fiscal 2022, it jumped again to 2,378,944.
From January 2017, when Trump was inaugurated, through January 2021, when Biden succeeded him in office, the Border Patrol, according to its data, encountered a total of 2,112,458 trying to illegally enter our country through the southern border.
That means the Border Patrol encountered more people trying to illegally cross the southern border in fiscal 2022, under Biden, than they did through the entirety of Trump's presidency.
On Feb. 7, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing on the border crisis. The witnesses were Gloria Chavez, the Border Patrol's chief agent in the Rio Grande Valley Sector; and John Modlin, the chief agent in the Tucson Sector.
Republican Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida asked them about the massive increase in illegal crossers encountered at the southern border.
"The thing I can tell you that goes to the spike that you're talking about," Modlin responded, "is that in the Tucson sector, interviewing people post-arrest, what became the most-common response was that they believed that when the administration changed that the law changed, and policy changed and that there was an open border."
"Chief, I'm glad you said that," said Donalds, "because, ladies and gentlemen, the law did not change. Joe Biden decided not to follow the law."
(Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews.com.)