A group of Iranians trying to enter the U.S. illegally was arrested Monday evening near San Luis, Arizona, according to a news release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The release said the group was spotted “on a bridge near County 21st Street and the Salinity Canal. Agents determined the group had illegally crossed the international border into the U.S. The group was arrested and taken to Yuma Station for processing. “
The release said the group consisted of six men and five women.
Border Patrol agents in the Yuma Sector, which runs from California to eastern Arizona, have stopped Iranian nationals from crossing into the U.S. before.
Eight Iranians were stopped in the 2020 fiscal year, according to the release, while 14 have been stopped so far in the current federal fiscal year that began in October.
The arrests come as President Joe Biden has undone many of former President Donald Trump’s policies to halt illegal immigration. Among other things, Biden’s executive orders have halted construction of a wall on the nation’s southern border and paused Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers.
The southern border has been viewed as a potential gateway for terrorists.
“There are thousands of individuals on the terrorist watchlist that traveled through our Hemisphere last year alone, and we work very hard to keep these individuals from traveling on illicit pathways to our country,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a fact sheet posted in January 2019
“The threat is real. The number of terror-watchlisted individuals encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years. The exact number is sensitive and details about these cases are extremely sensitive,” it said.
A report from the Center for Immigration Studies said the southern border is not the only way Iranians seek to illegally enter the United States.
“Just 197 Iranians were apprehended at or between southern border ports of entry from 2009-2019, including 15 in 2019, 27 in 2018, and 16 the year before that, according to data provided to CIS under a Freedom of Information Act request,” it reported.
“Far more Iranians are apprehended crossing at or between U.S.-Canada ports of entry, to include 22,789 from 2008-2018, increasing from 1,523 in 2013 to 2,294 in 2018,” the CIS report said.
The potential of the southern border as a gateway for terrorists has been explored by the Islamic State group.
A 2019 report in Homeland Security Today by Anne Speckhard, director of the Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, and Ardian Shajkovci, director of research at the center, noted that in May of that year, “we learned that, indeed, there was at least one ISIS plot for their cadres to travel from Syria to penetrate the U.S. southern border by infiltrating migration routes.”
“Whatever one thinks of President Donald Trump’s heightened rhetoric about the U.S.-Mexico border and his many claims that it is vulnerable to terrorists, ISIS apparently also thought so, as knowledge of this ISIS plot came from the mouth of a now-repentant ISIS cadre,” they wrote.
Speckhard later told the Center for Immigration Studies that the thought of the Islamic State exploiting the border’s chaotic conditions worried her.
“I felt this is a story that is important to get out, that it’s not just about Central Americans,” she said. “We were surprised by this and concerned as Americans. After reflecting on the case, that they [ISIS] would try this no longer seems incredible to me. Our ethic is to report the facts, not pander to either political party.”