ICE arrests underscore immigration vetting concerns

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(NewsNation) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection released new data revealing Immigration and Custom Efforts (ICE) detentions highlight growing concerns about the nation’s vetting process.

On Thursday, federal agents arrested a Venezuelan man who omitted his homicide conviction and was released with a notice to appear, which he failed to do. A man wanted in Senegal for terrorism, roamed New York City freely for weeks before ICE detained him in October.

Special interest countries saw more than 76,000 migrants enter the U.S. in the fiscal year 2023, which ended Sept. 30. In October, the 2024 fiscal year started as the third-highest month on record, with more than 241,000 migrants encountered at the southern border, as per CBP sources.

There’s a particular focus on countries in the Middle East, possibly influenced by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

A total of 655 people entered the U.S. from Afghanistan — up from 320 in September. This includes 129 from Syria, 65 from Egypt and about 100 others from Iran, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

So, what unfolds after their months-long journey from the Middle East?

Sources told NewsNation that nearly every migrant, excluding children under 14, undergoes a swift field screening by Border Patrol agents using handheld devices to flag immigration infractions. Then, they’re transported for biometric screenings, involving fingerprinting and facial/retina scans. The next step involves interviews with an agent who relies heavily on training and gut instinct.

In cases where red flags appear, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force liaison officers get involved, conducting additional interviews and taking custody if needed. While individuals from special interest countries are meant to be referred to ICE for detention and eventual removal, there can be instances where people slip through the cracks.

“If the fingerprints come back with no record matches, if the pictures come back with no record matches, then we’re having to do this based on what they tell us,” said Retired Yuma Sector Border Patrol Chief Chris Clem. “Border Patrol agents are in the people business. So, we can kind of oftentimes smell a rat. But it’s one of those things where there is an opportunity for somebody to get through that shouldn’t. That’s why detention is so important.”

Clem said if individuals go through the screening without any red flags, they’re released into removal proceedings. The vast majority receive a notice to appear, which may be scheduled 2 to 5 years in the future.

However, with ICE operating well above its bed capacity, Clem points out that one of the most significant challenges is the immense pressure to meet the 72-hour holding guidance to release people from custody. As a result, human errors can occur, and it takes just one such error to have consequences.

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