In separate incidents during the first quarter of 2021, two Yemeni nationals, flagged for attention due to security concerns by the federal government, have been arrested for illegally entering the United States. Both men were reportedly apprehended by United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents within a few miles of the Calexico Port of Entry in California.
CBP released a public statement on Monday, April 5, indicating that both Yemenis arrested were named “on a U.S. government watchlist for terrorism suspects” and a no-fly list as part of the range of security measures to mitigate the risk of international terrorism. Federal authorities have reported that the first Yemeni national – a 33-year-old man – was found by El Centro CBP agents on January 29.
- This man was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on confirmation of the individual’s presence on what unconfirmed reporting more recently highlights as the FBI’s Terrorism Watch List.
- Further searches of his person located a mobile phone SIM card hidden under the insole of his shoe.
CBP’s statement on the second arrest, involving a 26-year-old Yemeni male just before midnight on March 30, indicated the suspect has been remanded to federal custody with deportation anticipated.
With its announcement, CBP noted that “encounters of known and suspected terrorists at our borders is very uncommon.” CBP Chief Patrol Agent Gregory K. Bovino of the El Centro Sector – which encompasses approximately 70 miles of land border as well as inland areas of California extending to the Oregon state line – emphasized, “Part of the Border Patrol’s mission states we will protect the country from terrorists … We can never stop being vigilant.”
Reporting as of April 6, 2021, indicates the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency were requested to provide a classified briefing for “congressional leadership and Vice President Harris” on these arrests.
According to the General Services Administration (GSA), the Calexico West Land Port of Entry “processes about 20,000 northbound vehicles and 12,500 northbound pedestrians daily.” GSA further denotes project phases for enhancing the pedestrian and vehicle inspection facility to enable meeting “current traffic loads or meet the CBP’s security requirements.”
Union Pacific operates in the Calexico area and exchanges with Ferromex for trains operating across cross-border through the Calexico West port of entry. Neither the attempted method of entry, nor the identities of the Yemeni nationals, has been publicly disclosed. However, the two arrests pinpoint integral coordination efforts of the US government in terrorism prevention efforts at land-based cross border sites.
In a report to Congress, CBP has reportedly stated that four individuals on the FBI’s Terrorism Watch List have been arrested along the United States’ southern border since October 2020. Three of those arrested are from Yemen and one from Serbia.
- These arrests have occurred amidst tens of thousands of migrants interdicted en route to the crossing or following illegal entry into the United States – with most coming from Mexico or nations in Central America.