FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday said that the number of illegal immigrants evading Border Patrol agents and escaping into the country is a source of “great concern” for the agency — as he told lawmakers that threats from the other side of the border are “consuming” FBI field offices.
Wray testified to lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee about “worldwide threats” to the U.S. Chairman Mark Green asked Wray about the numbers of gotaways — illegal immigrants at the border who evaded Border Patrol — which have exceeded 600,000 in FY 23. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sources tell Fox News there have been over 47,000 gotaways since the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Green said the number of gotaways since the beginning of the Biden administration could be well over two million.
“Can the FBI guaranteed American people that known or suspected terrorists, including any from Hamas or other terror groups, are not amongst those gotaways?” he asked.
“Well, certainly the group of people that you’re talking about are source of great concern for us. That’s why we’re aggressively using all 56 of our joint terrorism task forces,” Wray said.
He later said that “any time you have a group of people in the United States that we don’t know nearly enough about, that is a source of of concern for us from a perspective in our lane of protecting Americans.”
He testified that there have been an increase in the number of known or suspected terrorists attempting to cross the border in the last five years — the number of those encountered on the terror watchlist hit record numbers in FY 23.
He said he couldn’t speak to why that is but added “I can you that the threats that come from the other side of the border are very much consuming all 56 of our field offices, not just in the border states.”
The testimony comes amid renewed concern, particularly from Republicans but also from within the Biden administration, about the potential for terrorists to use the border to gain access to the United States, particularly as Border Patrol agents are dealing with record migrant numbers.
There were over 249,000 migrant encounters in October alone, after an FY23 which broke records for migrant encounters. Republicans have pinned the blame on the Biden administration for its policies, while the administration says it needs immigration reform and more funding to address a “broken” immigration system.
Those concerns about terrorism have been renewed in the wake of the Hamas terror attack on Israel. Green told Fox News Digital on Tuesday that the United States is at “heightened risk,” and said the “open door policy” at the border is largely to blame.
Wray has previously told lawmakers in the Senate that the threat of a terror attack against Americans has been raised to a “whole other level” due to ongoing conflict in the Middle East. He said the most immediate concern includes homegrown violent extremists who are inspired by foreign terrorist organizations, or by domestic violent extremists who are targeting Muslim or Jewish targets.
A Customs and Border Protection memo which warned fighters from Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups may seek entry into the U.S., although the agency said last month they have had no indication of fighters attempting to enter the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security’s FY 24 threat assessment warned that agents have encountered a growing number on the watch list and warned that “terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
“Individuals with terrorism connections are interested in using established travel routes and permissive environments to facilitate access to the United States,” the assessment also said.
Fox News’ Aubrie Spady and Griff Jenkins contributed to this report.