Among the more notable claims made were comments from GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy, who said that people on the terror watch list were now attempting to enter the US through the southern border.
“They’re now finding people from Yemen, Iran, Turkey. People on the terror watch list they’re catching. And they’re rushing it all at once,” McCarthy told Fox News. He suggested during a news conference that recently detained individuals on the terror watch list were also coming from Sri Lanka and China.
“I was stunned,” Katko said. “And I’ve never heard that before.”
Facts First: There’s no evidence of a sudden rush of individuals on the terror watch list showing up at the southern border. The information that is available is vague and leaves many questions unanswered. That said, it’s entirely false to imply a small number of individuals on the terror watch list coming to the southern border is a new phenomenon. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that being on the FBI’s terror watch list does not mean someone is a terrorist or has proven ties to terrorists.
Here’s what we do know:
After the Axios report published, a representative from McCarthy’s office pointed to it in response to CNN’s request for comment. According to the report, one of the individuals was from Serbia and the other three were from Yemen.
On Tuesday evening, in response to the Axios reporting, Arizona Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego challenged the substance of those claims in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, saying, “There is no correlation from what I’m reading to what Mr. McCarthy and other people are talking about.”
“I actually just had a briefing about 90 minutes ago regarding this issue and none of what I heard in that briefing matches this information,” Gallego told CNN.
When Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was asked about the reporting during a congressional hearing Wednesday, Mayorkas said individuals on the terror watchlist being encountered at the southern border “is not a new phenomenon” and has taken place for years.
After repeated requests to clarify McCarthy’s claim, Customs and Border Protection provided CNN a statement Tuesday evening, which noted that “encounters of known and suspected terrorists at our borders are very uncommon.”
Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, told CNN that most years the number of those undocumented immigrants on the terror watch list encountered at the southern border “is in the low single digits.”
“The numbers are so small it’s hard to say anything statistically significant about them,” Nowrasteh said, noting additionally that not a single American has “been killed by an illegal immigrant in a terrorist attack on US soil — that hasn’t happened.”
Republican allegations of terrorists crossing the US southern border are not new.
Amid a wave of migration in January 2019, Trump claimed “we have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left.”
But the then-President’s claims of terrorists coming through Mexico were contradicted by his own State Department.
CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this article.