By Ted Hesson and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. border agents in recent months arrested two Yemeni men on a terror watchlist in separate incidents as they crossed the border with Mexico illegally, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced on Monday.
The men, arrested in January and March near a port of entry in California, were on a U.S. government watchlist for terrorism suspects and a “no-fly” list, CBP said in a press release.
A group of Republican lawmakers that visited the border in El Paso, Texas, in March said border agents told them during the trip that some people caught crossing the border were on a U.S. terrorism watchlist. Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden for easing some restrictions put in place by former President Donald Trump as the number of border crossings has risen in recent months.
One of the men, aged 33, was arrested on Jan. 29 after allegedly attempting to cross the border illegally near a port of entry in Calexico, California, CBP said.
Border agents found a mobile phone SIM card located beneath the insole of the man’s shoe, the agency said.
The second man, aged 26, was arrested on March 30 in the same vicinity.
A CBP spokesman said in a written statement that it is “very uncommon” for border agents to encounter people suspected of terrorism at U.S. borders, but that the arrests underscore the agency’s “critical” vetting efforts.
The agency did not provide the names of the men.
The watchlist is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Terrorism Screening Center. The list contains “the identities of those who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities,” according to the FBI.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)