Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday confirmed to Senate lawmakers that there had been more than 600,000 “gotaways” at the southern border in fiscal year 2023.
Mayorkas was asked by Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing how many gotaways Customs and Border Protection recorded in fiscal 2023. The term “gotaways” refers to illegal immigrants who evade Border Patrol but who are detected on another form of surveillance.
“I believe, senator, that number is over 600,000, and as I’m sure you’re well aware the phenomenon of gotaways has been a challenge for the Department of Homeland Security for decades,” Mayorkas said.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about the risk to national security and public safety posed by the numbers of illegal immigrants evading overwhelmed Border Patrol agents amid the ongoing and historic crisis at the southern border.
That concern has been increased by renewed terrorism concerns in the midst of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East, which officials said has increased the threat of terrorism to Americans.
Fiscal 2023 saw record numbers of migrant encounters across the board, even eclipsing fiscal 2022’s record numbers. There were over 2.4 million migrants encountered by CBP at the southern border in fiscal 2023, including more than 269,000 in September, a new monthly record. Fox reported last week that CBP released over 900,000 migrants it encountered into the U.S. in fiscal 2023.
Meanwhile, there was a record number of terror watch list encounters at the southern border in fiscal 2023 by Border Patrol agents between ports of entry. The watch list, now officially called the Terrorist Screening Dataset, is the U.S. database that contains information on terrorist identities and includes not only known or suspected terrorists but also affiliates of watch-listed individuals.
The Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal 2024 threat assessment warned that agents have encountered a growing number on the watch list and warned that “terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
This week, in light of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, a DHS spokesperson said the U.S. “remains in a heightened threat environment and recent events reinforce that.”
Meanwhile, an agency official said DHS now has more personnel, technology and resources than ever before “to send a clear message that our borders are not open to illegal migration.”
The Biden administration has also requested an additional $14 billion in supplemental funding for border operations, which includes money for migrant services, anti-fentanyl technology, greater use of expedited removal and more border agents. It has said its priority is in implementing “consequences” for illegal entry while also expanding “lawful pathways” for migration.
Republicans, meanwhile, have accused the administration of exacerbating the crisis with greater releases into the U.S. and reduced interior enforcement, along with ending Trump-era policies like border wall construction and the Remain-in-Mexico policy.