Posted on June 26, 2024

DHS Identifies Over 400 Migrants Brought to the U.S. By an ISIS-Affiliated Human Smuggling Network

Julia Ainsley and Tom Winter, NBC, June 25, 2024

The Department of Homeland Security has identified over 400 immigrants from Central Asia and elsewhere who crossed into the U.S. in the past three years as “subjects of concern” because they were brought by an ISIS-affiliated human smuggling network, three U.S. officials tell NBC News.

While over 150 of them have been arrested, the whereabouts of over 50 remain unknown, the officials said, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to arrest them on immigration charges when they are located.

One of the U.S. officials said people affiliated with ISIS are operating as human smugglers in Central Asia and helping people there leave their countries and travel to the West, where they are then smuggled into the U.S. It is not known whether the human smuggling activity directly funds ISIS activity or whether ISIS members are making personal money through human smuggling on the side, the U.S. official said.

The official added that the U.S. has no indication that the more than 400 migrants brought to the U.S. by the network have plans to carry out terrorism in the U.S., but immigration agents are looking to arrest them out of an abundance of caution.

“In this case, it was the information that suggested a potential tie to ISIS because of some of the individuals involved in [smuggling migrants to the border] that led us to want to take extra care,” said a senior Biden administration official, “and out of an abundance of caution make sure that we exercised our authority in the most expansive and appropriate way to mitigate risk because of this potential connection being made.”

The official added that since ICE began arresting migrants brought to the U.S. by the ISIS-linked smuggling group several months ago, no information has emerged tying them to a threat to the U.S. homeland.

Many of the more than 400 migrants crossed the southern border and were released into the U.S. by Customs and Border Protection because they were not on the government’s terrorism watchlist, according to the three officials, and the agency did not have information raising concerns at the time.

But recent terrorist attacks in Russia have fueled heightened concern about ISIS and its offshoot ISIS-K. In recent months, DHS has been looking more closely at migrants from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Russia, countries where ISIS-K has been active.

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Thousands of migrants from those countries are already inside the U.S. awaiting court decisions on whether they can stay.

Two officials said federal law enforcement agencies are “not panicking” about those people now identified as “subjects of concern,” but are prioritizing them for arrest on immigration charges out of an abundance of caution.

Some of the 150 who were arrested have already been deported, the officials said. The whereabouts of other people in 17 states are known, and they may be arrested soon. Other migrants may have already left the U.S. voluntarily.

Some of those detained or deported to date have been charged with immigration violations. None have been charged with terrorism-related offenses.

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