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A U.S. agency has noted a slight uptick in the number of people on the terrorist watchlist being apprehended on the border, but we did not see reports or confirmation that linked entries to Hamas.
The FBI director told a House committee, "Well, certainly the group of people that you’re talking about is a source of great concern for us."
More than 60 U.S. House Republicans traveled to Texas’ southern border this month to demand President Joe Biden’s administration crack down on record migrant crossings.
Led by House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., the delegation gathered in Eagle Pass, a popular crossing point.
At a Jan. 3 news conference, Mark Green, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told Congress the border is open for terrorists.
"Director Wray admitted before my committee the other day — our committee the other day — that with the border wide open and a war in Israel, Hamas can just walk right in. That’s the director of the FBI. He fears for his own agents. It’s clear this is intentional."
Hamas — an Islamic militant group that formed in Gaza in the 1980s — calls for the destruction of Israel and was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department in 1997. Hamas’ attack on multiple sites in October was the deadliest attack on Israel in decades.
Green’s office did not respond to two phone calls and two emails seeking information, but Wray last appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee on Nov. 15, 2023.
At that hearing, Green asked Wray if members of Hamas or others on the terrorism watch list could be among those crossing the border without detection, referred to by border agents as "got-aways."
"Can the FBI guarantee the American people that known or suspected terrorists, including any from Hamas or other terror groups, are not amongst those got-aways?"
Wray replied: "Well, certainly the group of people that you’re talking about is a source of great concern for us."
Pressed further, Wray answered, "Well, again, as you say, there’s the unknown unknown and the known unknown. But what I can tell you is that our 56 joint terrorism task forces are working their tails off to make sure that they suss out and identify potential terrorist suspects, whether they’re on the watch list or not."
The terrorist watchlist, run by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, is a federal database of people who are known or suspected terrorists. The list has been criticized by civil liberty groups, citing concerns about the nomination process and its lack of transparency.
The number of migrants arrested at the southern border who are on the U.S. terrorist watch list did slightly increase over the past year, according to an assessment by the Department of Homeland Security.
In fiscal year 2023, officials at the southern border arrested about 160 people whose names matched those on the watch list, compared with about 100 the previous year. That represents a fraction of the about 2 million reported Border Patrol encounters with migrants during that time frame.
In October, PolitiFact fact-checked former President Donald Trump, who said "the same people that raided Israel are pouring into our once beautiful USA, through our TOTALLY OPEN SOUTHERN BORDER, at Record Numbers." We rated his statement Pants on Fire.
"There is no credible evidence of Hamas on the southern border of the United States," Jason M. Blazakis, director of the Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, previously told PolitiFact.
No Americans have been injured or killed in terrorist attacks by immigrants who crossed the border illegally, noted Alex Nowrasteh, vice president for economic and social policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, who studied attacks and planned attacks from 1975 through 2022.
At a separate hearing Dec. 5, 2023, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray testified that since Hamas’ attack on Israel, the U.S. faces a heightened terrorism threat.
"I am concerned that we are in a heightened threat environment from foreign terrorist organizations for a whole host of reasons and obviously their ability to exploit any port of entry, including our southwest border, is a concern."
Noting the slight increase of people on the terrorist watch list apprehended at the border, Wray cautioned the committee against reading too much into numbers.
"Let’s not forget it didn’t take a big number of people on 9-11 to kill 3,000 people," he testified. "While numbers are important, numbers don’t tell the whole story."
Green said Wray told Congress "that with the border wide open and a war in Israel, Hamas can just walk right in."
Wray never said that. The FBI director said 56 joint terrorism task forces are working to identify potential terrorist suspects and that Hamas militants are "a source of great concern for us." But he didn’t explicitly say that Hamas militants could walk in through a "wide open" southern border.
We rate this claim False.
Email interview with Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute, Jan. 5, 2024.
House Committee on Homeland Security, Worldwide Threats to the Homeland hearing, Nov. 15, 2023.
CBS News, House GOP lawmakers hold news conference at southern border, Jan. 3, 2024.
PolitiFact, Hamas militants ‘pouring’ across U.S. southern border? Donald Trump’s claim is Pants on Fire, Oct. 12, 2023.
PolitiFact, Key facts about immigration data, Jan. 3, 2024.
Department of Homeland Security, 2024 Homeland Threat Assessment.
The New York Times, Assessing Republicans’ claims about immigration during border visit, Jan. 3, 2024.
Senate Judiciary Committee, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHAeRO2FVE8, Dec. 5, 2023.
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