FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is quizzing Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the numbers of “special interest aliens” being allowed into the U.S., amid concerns about a potential terror threat after the recent Hamas attack on Israel.
“I write with alarm regarding the uptick in potential terrorist-linked illegal aliens encountered at the southern border. This development follows the barbaric attack perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on innocent American and Israeli civilians,” Hawley said in a letter to Mayorkas.
“It is imperative that you address this issue immediately to ensure the safety of American citizens, especially Jewish Americans, who are facing increased threats to their physical safety following the Hamas attack.”
Hawley has noted both the record number of apprehensions of people on the terror watch list, with 151 people encountered at the southern border between ports of entry in FY23, higher than the previous six years combined, as well as recent reports about the number of “special interest aliens”
Fox News reported last week that thousands of “special interest aliens” from numerous countries, including the Middle East, have been arrested by Border Patrol agents while attempting to cross the U.S. southern border illegally over the last two years. “Special interest aliens” are people from countries identified by the U.S. government as having conditions that promote or protect terrorism or potentially pose some sort of national security threat to the U.S.
CBP data from between October 2021 and October 2023 shows that agents encountered 6,386 nationals from Afghanistan in that period as well as 3,153 from Egypt, 659 from Iran and 538 from Syria.
Agents also encountered 13,624 from Uzbekistan, 30,830 from 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 those migrants were removed or who were released into the U.S. with a court date.
In the last two weeks, agents have also encountered dozens of migrants from Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s raised concerns from conservatives that those with ties to terror groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, could be trying to enter the U.S.
DHS has acknowledged the potential risk. Its threat assessment warned that terrorists and criminals “may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
“Individuals with terrorism connections are interested in using established travel routes and permissive environments to facilitate access to the United States,” the assessment also said.
“Illegal aliens with potential ties to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah have no place in the United States. In the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is already alerting Americans about an elevated number of violent threats,” Hawley wrote. “It is therefore critical that you abandon your radical open border policies, and instead, take immediate action to secure the border. As Secretary, your number one priority should be protecting American citizens against potential terrorists entering our country.”
Hawley wants to know the number of special interest aliens released into the U.S. in the last two years, any steps DHS has taken to increase security at the border since the attack on Israel, and coordination with the FBI to monitor organizations with ties to Hamas within the U.S.
Last week, DHS told Fox News Digital that DHS does “not have specific and credible intelligence indicating a threat to the United States at this time stemming from the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.”
The DHS spokesperson added the department is “closely monitoring unfolding events and will continue to engage in information sharing with our intelligence and law enforcement partners at home and abroad.”
“This information-sharing helps ensure that we are positioned to help mitigate any risks to national security or public safety,” the spokesperson said. “Our multilayered border security efforts include various screening and vetting processes that work to detect and prevent individuals who pose national security or public safety risks from entering the United States.”
Hawley is one of a number of Republicans who have expressed immigration-related concerns in the wake of the attack on Israel. A number of Republicans, including presidential candidates, have said the U.S. 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.