Federal courts criticized President Trump for initially failing to demonstrate that his executive order suspending immigration from several majority-Muslim countries was based on a real threat to the country. In his revised order, President Trump was careful to include specific evidence to support the idea that refugees and immigrants from these countries pose a threat to the United States and that banning immigration temporarily to review vetting procedures is therefore justified.
Yet the president’s evidence, laid out in a single paragraph in the order, is so exceptionally weak that it exposes his security defense as little more than a fig-leaf to cover his blanket discrimination.
- The executive order provides no evidence for singling out certain countries.
The executive order states:
Recent history shows that some of those who have entered the United States through our immigration system have proved to be threats to our national security.
This vague language provides no estimate of the level of the threat. The Cato Institute’s recent paper on immigration and terrorism risk does estimate that level: a U.S. resident had a 1 in 3.61 million chance of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist from 1975 to 2015. For comparison, a person had a 1 in 14 thousand chance of being killed in a regular homicide. There is simply no evidence of intolerable terrorism risk from the immigration system generally or from these countries in particular. No person from the six banned countries has killed any U.S. resident in a terrorist attack during those years.
Moreover, two Department of Homeland Security assessments have also rejected the argument that certain countries pose a unique threat to national security. The first stated that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity” because, of the 82 individuals* who died in pursuit of or were convicted of any terrorism-related offense, “more than half were native-born United States citizens. Of the foreign-born individuals, they came from 26 different countries.” The second assessment concluded that “most foreign-born, U.S.-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry,” meaning increased vetting would have no impact.
- The executive order cites convictions that were not for terrorism offenses.
The executive order states:
Since 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.
“Terrorism-related” includes any crime that begins with a terrorism investigation. As my colleague Alex Nowrasteh has described, less than half of the 488 cases of foreign-born people with “terrorism-related” convictions—in a list published by Attorney General Jeff Sessions—were actually convicted of a terrorism offense. Mr. Sessions even included thieves who stole a couple of trucks of cereal. Moreover, only 8 percent of the foreign-born residents with terrorism-related convictions (40 people total) actually planned a terrorist attack inside the United States.
- The executive order cites a case where the individuals were not planning a domestic attack.
But surely these 40 individuals were so dangerous that it makes sense to shut down our immigration system from these places for a while. The executive order provides two examples to attempt to highlight the danger:
… in January 2013, two Iraqi nationals admitted to the United States as refugees in 2009 were sentenced to 40 years and to life in prison, respectively, for multiple terrorism-related offenses.
My colleague Alex Nowrasteh reviewed this case yesterday—two Iraqi interpreters who attempted to send weapons to Iraq to aid insurgents there. First, they were not planning an attack here, and second, even if they were, this new order specifically exempts those who worked for the U.S. government, so this order would not apply to them. Third, President Obama instituted new vetting procedures that would have caught them anyway. If the goal was to frighten the public, this is about the worst case to cite.
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