The head of the Border Patrol, Rodney Scott, told his 19,000 agents before retiring on Aug. 14 that their national security task is predominant right now despite the Biden administration's focus on migrant families and children who are coming across the United States-Mexico boundary at record rates.
“Over and over again, I see other people talk about our mission, your mission, and the context of it being immigration or the current crisis today being an immigration crisis,” Scott said in a video message to agents, obtained by the Washington Examiner. “I firmly believe that it is a national security crisis. Immigration is just a subcomponent of it, and right now, it’s just a cover for massive amounts of smuggling going across the southwest border — to include TSDBs at a level we have never seen before. That's a real threat.”
TSDB refers to known or suspected terrorists, as recognized in the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database.
"Your peers or you are taking criminals, pedophiles, rapists, murderers, and like I said before, even TSDB alerts off the streets and keeping them safe from America," Scott said. "Even if we processed several thousand migrants that day and even if thousands of them were allowed into the U.S., you still took those threats off the street, and I think that's worth it. So please don’t ever undersell how important your mission is."
The wave of migrants from mostly Central American countries has assisted Border Patrol to pull more than 40% of agents from the field to help transport, process, and care for people in custody, meaning fewer agents can patrol for national security threats. Usually, smugglers send over large groups of families and children to redirect agents to one area and then run other contraband or people over the border where agents are not present.
Quickly after taking office in January, CBP told members of Congress that federal law enforcement had arrested four people on the terror watch list. A CBP news release about these specific encounters was removed from the government agency's website moments after going up, inspiring complaints from Republicans about the Department of Homeland Security's transparency.
The congressional briefing confirmed what House Republicans had said during a border tour in Texas in March. House Homeland Security Committee ranking member John Katko, a former federal prosecutor who was based in El Paso, Texas, during his time as a lawyer, said the international cartels were "masterfully" exploiting the border due to an easing of Trump-era border restrictions.
"People they've caught in the last few days [in Border Patrol's El Paso sector] have been under the terror watch list," Katko said. "Individuals that they have on the watchlist for terrorism are now starting to exploit the southern border."