The Biden administration drastically simplified the vetting process for Chinese illegal immigrants in April 2023, according to an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) email obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The April 2023 email, which was sent by a CBP supervisor to a “master list” of about 500 Border Patrol agents, instructs CBP officials to radically reduce the number of interview questions for Chinese migrants apprehended after illegally crossing into the country from roughly 40 to just five. The “headquarters guidance” came as border agents were overwhelmed with near-record numbers of illegal crossings.
This scaling back of the interview process fast-tracked the releasing of Chinese illegal immigrants into the U.S. while making it more difficult for CBP agents to identify national security threats, J.J. Carrell, a retired CBP deputy patrol agent in charge, told the DCNF after reviewing the email.
“This policy change has accelerated the time it takes to process Chinese illegal immigrants — this doesn’t make America safer,” Carrell said. “The final result is that dangerous Chinese illegal immigrants will still be released into the U.S.”
“This is just the government covering their ass, so they can say they vetted,” said Carrell. “I believe the government recognizes the threat of Chinese soldiers and spies that are pouring into America, and they want to try and identify these individuals. However, the same government does not want to stop the flow of illegal aliens or Chinese nationals — just the ‘bad ones,’ which is impossible.
While previously agents might spend hours vetting a single Chinese illegal immigrant, the new guidance simplifies the vetting process by reducing the number of questions that agents are required to ask, thereby speeding up the flow of Chinese illegal immigrants into the U.S., Carrell said.
The former law enforcement official who provided the email to the DCNF said human smuggling operations quickly adapted to these new guidelines, coaching Chinese illegal immigrants on how to answer CBP’s shorter list of questions.
“It was almost immediate where [the Chinese illegal immigrants] knew what to say and what not to say,” said the former official, who requested anonymity in fear of U.S. government retribution.
Carrell described smuggling operations as “highly coordinated.” He told the DCNF that illegal immigrants are “coached from the beginning of the journey.”
“The stories are identical,” Carrell said. “The streets and the names they use just differ because of the nations they’re from.”
The April 2023 CBP email also states that Chinese illegal immigrants who pass field agents’ five “basic questions” may be released into the U.S. interior.
“If they do not alert to the above, there is no requirement to further delay current processing pathway — NTA/OR,” the email states.
“NTA/OR” is an abbreviation for “Notice to Appear” / “Order of Recognizance,” according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In practice, this allows Chinese illegal immigrants entry into the U.S. with a court date several years down the road, the former official said. By November 2023, the backlog of U.S. immigration court cases topped three million, signifying an all-time high.
Since 2022, Border Patrol has encountered approximately 35,000 Chinese illegal immigrants at the border, according to CBP data. Between 2022 and 2023, Border Patrol encounters with Chinese illegal immigrants surged over 1,000%, according to government records.
After answering agents’ “basic questions,” Chinese illegal immigrants are “sent out wherever they go, whether that’s contracted through Catholic Charities or other nonprofits,” the former official said.
The new guidance directs agents to ask five “basic questions” concerning “Military Service,” “Universities,” “POB/Region,” “Employment” and “Political Party.” All the questions are aimed at determining whether or not a Chinese illegal immigrant poses a national security threat, the former official told the DCNF.
“They’re really trying to see their ties to either terrorism or the government itself,” the former official said.
Questions regarding “Military Service,” “Universities,” “Employment” and “Political Party” are meant to tease out potential ties to the Chinese government, Chinese Communist Party or Chinese military. The question on “POB/Region” relates to terrorism, the former official told the DCNF.
“If there is a Yes to any of the above, they are then referred and transported to [redacted] for an in-depth interview by Tactical Terrorism Response Team,” the April 2023 email states.
The Tactical Terrorism Response Team (TTRT) is “part of the sector intelligence unit,” which is responsible for conducting in-depth questioning for Chinese illegal immigrants with potential terror or Chinese government ties, the former official said.
“Think of TTRT as the vetting unit before an individual is determined to be a national security risk or a terrorist,” Carrell, the former CBP agent, told the DCNF. “If TTRT determines that the individual is a security risk, that individual is turned over to Joint Terrorism Task Force for further investigation and deportation.”
Despite these concerns, DHS’s Special Interest Alien (SIA) list does not include immigrants from China.
SIA are defined as a “non-U.S. person who, based on an analysis of travel patterns, potentially poses a national security risk to the United States or its interests,” according to DHS. “Often such individuals or groups are employing travel patterns known or evaluated to possibly have a nexus to terrorism. DHS analysis includes an examination of travel patterns, points of origin and/or travel segments that are tied to current assessments of national and international threat environments.”
The vetting system for Chinese illegal immigrants in place prior to the April 2023 email was overwhelmed by the recent surge in crossings at the southern border, the former law enforcement official told the DCNF.
Under the previous system, it took up to four hours to process Chinese illegal immigrants, the former official told the DCNF.
“At the very beginning, what was happening was either at the station level — if they couldn’t get them to the processing center if it was too bogged down — or at the sector level at the processing center, the agent would then have to go through a long list of questions and it was taking almost four hours per person,” the former official said.
Carrell said the CBP vetting process was far more stringent for Chinese illegal immigrants during the Trump administration.
“If I received a Chinese national, we’d input them into the DHS database, look through [the National Crime Information Center] for criminal history in America — and nine times out of 10 these people have never been in America — so they’ll come back clean,” Carrell told the DCNF. “I would then set that individual up for deportation and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] would fly him or her back to China. Never in a million years would I then process that Chinese national and then just release them into America.”
“Now, that person would be interviewed, put into the database and then just simply street-released,” Carrell said.
The DCNF reviewed a copy of CBP’s longer questionnaire for Chinese illegal immigrants, which the former official also shared.
While field agents are no longer required to vet Chinese illegal immigrants using the longer questionnaire of approximately 40 questions, TTRT still uses that questionnaire to vet those who’ve failed the five “basic questions,” the former official said.
In addition to the five “basic questions,” CBP’s longer questionnaire further directs agents to ask Chinese illegal immigrants about “prior arrests,” the “handling of weapons/firearms,” “smuggling fees,” and various other matters.
DHS and CBP did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Daily Caller News Foundation investigative reporter, political journalist, and China watcher. Twitter: @LenczyckiPhilip.
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