FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, questions Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the number of “special interest aliens” allowed into the United States, amid concerns about a potential terrorist threat after the recent Hamas attack on Israel.
“I write with concern regarding the increase in the number of illegal aliens potentially linked to terrorism encountered at the southern border. This development follows the barbaric attack perpetrated by Hamas terrorists against innocent American and Israeli civilians,” Hawley said in a letter to Mayorkas.
“It is imperative that you address this matter immediately to ensure the safety of American citizens, particularly American Jews, who face increased threats to their physical safety following the Hamas attack.”
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Hawley noted both the record number of arrests of people on the terrorist watch list, with 151 people encountered at the southern border between ports of entry in FY23, more than the six years combined, as well as recent reports on the number of “foreigners of special interest”
Fox News reported last week that thousands of “aliens with special interest” from numerous countries, including the Middle East, had been arrested by Border Patrol Agents while attempting to illegally cross the southern border of the United States for the past two years. “Aliens of special interest” are individuals from countries identified by the U.S. government as having conditions that promote or protect terrorism or potentially pose some sort of threat to U.S. national security.
CBP data between October 2021 and October 2023 shows that agents encountered 6,386 Afghan nationals during that period, as well as 3,153 Egyptian, 659 Iranian and 538 Syrian nationals.
Officers also met with 13,624 people in Uzbekistan, 30,830 in Turkey, 1,613 from Pakistan, 164 from Lebanon, 185 from Jordan, 139 from Yemen, 123 from Iraq and 15,594 from Mauritania. The data does not include information on how many of these migrants were deported or released into the United States with a court date.
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Over the past two weeks, officers have also encountered dozens of migrants from Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Conservatives worry that those with ties to terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, could attempt to enter the United States.
DHS recognized the potential risk. Its threat assessment warns that terrorists and criminals “could exploit the high flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
“Individuals with ties to terrorism wish to use established travel routes and permissive environments to facilitate access to the United States,” the assessment also states.
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“Illegal aliens with potential ties to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah have no place in the United States. Following Hamas’ attack on Israel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is already alerting Americans to a high number of violent threats,” Hawley wrote. “It is therefore essential that you abandon your radical open border policies and instead take immediate steps to secure the border. As Secretary, your number one priority should be protecting American citizens from potential terrorists entering in our country.”
Hawley wants to know the number of special interest aliens released into the United States in the past two years, steps DHS has taken to increase border security since the attack on Israel, and coordination with the FBI to monitor Hamas-linked organizations inside. United States
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Last week, DHS told Fox News Digital that DHS “does not have specific, credible intelligence indicating a threat to the United States at this time resulting from Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.”
The DHS spokesperson added that the department is “closely monitoring ongoing events and will continue to engage in information sharing with our intelligence and security agencies.” law enforcement partners at home and abroad.”
“This sharing of information helps ensure that we are able to help mitigate any risks to national security or public safety,” the spokesperson said. “Our multi-layered border security efforts include various screening and enforcement processes that aim to detect and prevent individuals who pose risks to national security or public safety from entering the United States.”
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Hawley is among several Republicans who have expressed concerns about immigration in the wake of the attack on Israel. A number of Republicans, including presidential candidates, have said the United States should not take in any refugees from Gaza who may have been displaced by the conflict.
Fox News’ Griff Jenkins, Bill Melugin and Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.