September 25, 2017 10:55AM

New Travel Ban Would Not Have Prevented the Entry of Any Terrorists Since 9/11

President Trump signed a new proclamation this weekend that bans or restricts the travel and immigration of nationals from eight countries. This order drops the pretext of being a temporary measure and includes no end date. In our amicus brief for the Supreme Court case challenging his prior executive order banning travel from six countries, we criticized the ban as lacking a basis in the evidence regarding terrorism threats and terrorism vetting failures. This new order fares no better. It is even further divorced from threats of terrorism to the United States than the prior order.

The new targets are the nationals of the following eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Like prior orders, it justifies the restrictions based on the false premise that the government needs certain information to adjudicate visas. In reality, because the visa applicant bears the burden of proof to prove his claim, the lack of information hurts the applicant, not the government. In any case, very few visa vetting failures have allowed terrorists to enter since 9/11 from these countries. Here are the facts:

  • Only one nationality (Somalia) of the eight targets has had any immigration vetting failures for terrorism offenders since 9/11. This compares to two nationalities under the second executive order, and three nationalities under the first executive order.
  • The three vetting failures of terrorism offenders from Somalia were refugees who the new proclamation does not exclude. The other executive order covered refugees.
  • This new travel ban would have prevented no terrorists—that is, people who planned to attack the United States—from entering the United States since 9/11. The only offender whose entry would have been prevented by the new order radicalized after entry—and so was not a vetting failure—and did not attempt an attack in the United States. He played a “minimal role” in sending a small amount of money to a terrorist group overseas.

In a prior post, I identified just 34 individuals who entered through the U.S. immigration system legally since 9/11—when the visa vetting system was revamped—and who went on to be killed or convicted of terrorism offenses as of March 2017 when the president signed the second executive order. Of these, I could plausibly describe only 18 as likely vetting failures—people who the government determined radicalized prior to entry or people who committed attacks soon after entry (see here for a longer explanation). Just half of these planned attacks in the United States, and only one killed anyone.

As seen in the table below, the 34 offenders who entered after 9/11 came from 22 different countries and the 18 vetting failures from 13 countries. Only two nationalities (Somalia and Iran) of the seven targeted in the new executive order had any terrorism offenders who entered since 9/11 at all. Only one (Somalia) had any terrorism vetting failures. Critically, as my colleague Alex Nowrasteh points out, no person of a designated country has killed anyone in the United States in a terrorist attack in over 40 years.

Table 1
Foreign Terrorism Offenders Killed or Convicted Who Entered Through the Immigration System After 9/11

  Country of Birth All Terrorism Offenders Who Entered Since 9/11 Likely Vetting Failures

1

Somalia

4


11.4%


3


16.7%


2

Iraq

3


8.6%


2


11.1%


3

Pakistan

3


8.6%


2


11.1%


4

Uzbekistan

3


8.6%


2


11.1%


5

Sudan

2


5.7%


1


5.6%


6

Albania

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


7

Bangladesh

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


8

Jordan

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


9

Kuwait

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


10

Lebanon

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


11

Nigeria

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


12

Saudi Arabia

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


13

United Kingdom

1


2.9%


1


5.6%


14

Kyrgyzstan

2


5.7%


0


0.0%


15

Mexico

2


5.7%


0


0.0%


16

Cuba

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


17

Ethiopia

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


18

India

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


19

Iran

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


20

Kenya

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


21

Kazakhstan

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


22

Nicaragua

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


23

Philippines

1


2.9%


0


0.0%


24

Libya

0


0.0%


0


0.0%


25

Syria

0


0.0%


0


0.0%


26

Chad

0


0.0%


0


0.0%


27

North Korea

0


0.0%


0


0.0%


28

Venezuela

0


0.0%


0


0.0%

  Total

35


100%


18


100%

Sources: Author’s Calculations Based on Global Terrorism Database; Department of Justice National Security Division; Department of Justice; New America Foundation; George Washington University Project on Extremism

Here are the five terrorism offenders from the two nationalities that entered through the U.S. immigration system since 9/11:

Not vetting failures

  • Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud, 2004 entry, was a Somali national who, at the age of 28, won a green card through the diversity visa lottery. He lived in the United States for seven years before he committed his terrorism offense in 2011. He played what prosecutors described as a “minimal role” in a scheme to send money to a terrorist organization overseas. He deposited money into an account for the conspirators. The federal judge described him as a “law-abiding and productive” member of U.S. society before falling in with the conspirators who he only met years after his entry.
  • Adnan Fazeli, 2009 entry, was an Iranian national who, at the age of 31, entered the United States as a refugee. After his entry, he converted from Shia Islam to radical Wahhabism. Government investigators established that he radicalized after his entry to the United States. He was killed in 2015 in Lebanon as part of an Islamic State attack on the Lebanese army.

Possible Vetting Failures

  • Abdinasir Ibrahim, 2008 entry, committed immigration fraud by claiming that he was a member of a persecuted minority clan in Somalia in order to obtain refugee status in fiscal year 2008. In fact, he was a member of a clan persecuting other clans. He attempted to send material support to the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia in 2014.
  • Amina Esse, 2009 entry, entered the United States as a refugee from Somalia. She played a small role in sending $850 to al-Shabaab in 2011 and 2012. Her abusive husband who she married in the U.S. was an al-Shabaab supporter gave her the money to send, and her conspirators in Somalia initially told her that the money was for war orphans. She voluntarily cut off support soon after she discovered the truth. She chose to testify against her co-conspirators, and prosecutors asked for no jail time for her. It seems likely that she was not a vetting failure, but the government did not make a determination one way or another.
  • Adul Razak Artan, 2014 entry, came to the United States as a refugee in 2014. In 2016, he attempted to run over students at Ohio State University with his car and then stab them. He failed to kill any and was killed himself. While investigators never discovered any evidence of pre-entry radicalization, the timing of the attack after just two years in the United States suggests that he may have been radicalized at the time of his entry.

Only one of the five terrorism offenders attempted to carry out an attack in the United States. None of the refugees on the list above would have been stopped by this proclamation, which targets only people traveling on visas (refugees receive special status to enter without a visa). Thus, only Ahmed Mohamud who won his immigrant visa in the diversity visa lottery would have been subject to the ban, and he did not attempt an attack against the United States.

President Trump has now issued three different orders targeting terrorist travel, each replacing the prior order. The first singled out Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The second removed Iraq, and the third removed Sudan and added North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. Table 2 compares the three executive orders. As it shows, each successive order has actually become less targeted toward nationalities that have a history of evading screening procedures in order to commit acts of terrorism. The share of targeted nationalities which have, at least in one case, evaded screening and committed terrorism offenses since 9/11 has shrunk as well—from 38 percent (3/8) to just 13 percent (1/8).

Table 2
Executive Orders Targeting Terrorist Travel

  Targeted Nationalities Targeted Nationalities With Offenders Entering Since 9/11 Targeted Nationalities With a Post-9/11 Vetting Failure Share of All Vetting Failures
First 7 4 3 33.4%
Second 6 3 2 27.8%
Third 8 2 1 16.7%

Sources: Author’s Calculations Based on Global Terrorism Database; Department of Justice National Security Division; Department of Justice; New America Foundation; George Washington University Project on Extremism

This exercise shows the inherent difficulty with blanket discrimination based on national origin. Even if the executive order was perfectly aligned with past incidents, the fact that it is dealing with such rare, low probability, and low-risk events inevitably means that the past will be a poor predictor of the future. But the administration has consistently relied on past events as justification for the restrictions, and yet it fails to match its policies with these events.