EXCLUSIVE: Texas law enforcement arrested an Iranian illegal immigrant at the southern border whose name and date of birth subsequently turned out to be a match on the FBI’s terror watch list, Fox News has learned.
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) arrested 29-year-old Alireza Heidari last week after a traffic stop involving a human smuggler at the border in Val Verde County, Texas as part of Operation Lone Star.
Heidari was being smuggled in the vehicle along with four other illegal immigrants. He was located in the trunk. Fox is told that Heidari was handed over to Border Patrol custody and later determined to be a match of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB)
Fox reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Thursday and multiple times since. Only on Tuesday did DHS refer Fox to the FBI, which declined to comment. The FBI’s website says it does not confirm anyone’s status on the watch list.
BORDER PATROL NABBED 17 PEOPLE ON FBI TERROR WATCH LIST AT SOUTHERN BORDER IN DECEMBER
National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd noted that it was Texas DPS, not Border Patrol, that ultimately apprehended Heidari.
“If not for the work of Governor Abbott and Texas DPS, Alireza Heidari would be at large on our streets today and looking to do harm to the US and our fellow citizens,” Judd said. “Heidari entered the country illegally and evaded apprehension by the Border Patrol. It fell to Texas DPS to do our job because [President] Biden continues to play politics with the safety and security of our children, friends and neighbors. What Biden is doing is dangerous and the capture of Heidari by a non-federal law enforcement agency is the most recent proof.”
The FBI’s TSDB contains information about the identities of those who are “reasonably suspected” of being involved in terrorism or related activities. There were 17 people stopped by Border Patrol in December alone whose names matched on the list. That brings the total of individuals arrested at the southern border between ports of entry to 38 since October.
There were 98 terror watch list arrests in FY22, 15 in FY21 and just three in FY 20 at the southern border caught between ports of entry.
At the ports of entry at the northern and southern borders, meanwhile, CBP’s Office of Field Operations has encountered 125 people on the TSDB so far this fiscal year. In FY 2022 there were 380 apprehensions, 157 in FY21 and 196 in FY20.
NEARLY 300,000 ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS SLIPPED PAST BORDER AGENTS IN LESS THAN FOUR MONTHS: SOURCES
The increase in apprehensions between ports of entry has raised concerns that, amid a historic spike in illegal immigration across the southern border, illegal criminals and terrorists could be slipping by overwhelmed Border Patrol agents.
So far this fiscal year, nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants have evaded Border Patrol, with an average of 2,450 a day in the last 120 days, sources told Fox News last week.
In fiscal 2022, there were nearly 600,000 gotaways. There were 389,155 gotaways at the border in fiscal 2021, and fiscal 2023 is on track to easily outpace those numbers. Last week, agents told Fox News there have been more than 1.2 million gotaways during the Biden administration.
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Tom Homan, a former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, told Fox News on Saturday that the number should “scare the hell out of every American” and said there was a reason these migrants are not turning themselves in to Border Patrol to be processed and released into the U.S.
“Why would they not take advantage of the program? Because they don’t want to be fingerprinted, and there’s a reason for that.”
Fox News’ Griff Jenkins contributed to this report.