Misleading Trump Admin Report Links Immigration, Terrorism

Bill Clark/CQPHO

The Trump administration wants everyone to know that many of the people convicted by the U.S. of international terrorism weren’t born in America.

That unsurprising finding, itself obtained through a brazen sleight of hand, is the key revelation in a new report released Tuesday by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The ten-page paper was written in response to an executive order issued last year by President Donald Trump that directed the government to report numbers on foreigners in the U.S. who have been charged with terrorism. It aims to build support for the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies.

“This report reveals an indisputable sobering reality—our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press release accompanying the report.

The report finds that of the 549 people convicted in the U.S. of international terrorism since 9/11, 402, or nearly three out of four, are “foreign-born.” But to get to that number, it includes foreigners who committed crimes on foreign soil before being extradited to the U.S. — cases which have no bearing on immigration issues.

House minority whip Steny Hoyer said the report’s “picture of a nation under assault from foreigners” served no serious purpose. The report, the Maryland Democrat said in a statement send to press and posted to his website, “cannot be taken seriously because it is so deeply misleading.”

“The fraction of immigrants who engage in terrorism is minuscule, barely registering against the overwhelming share who contribute positively to our economy and national security,” Hoyer wrote. “The report counts those who committed terrorist acts overseas and were brought here to face trial – such individuals are not ‘immigrants’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

Of course, that’s just the most obvious problem with the report. Michael German, formerly an FBI counterterrorism agent and now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program, said the report’s use of the term “international terrorism” exclusively refers to Muslim groups. Neo-Nazis, the Klan, anti-abortion terrorists and other terrorists, aren’t counted by the report as international terrorists even if they were foreign-born.

“International terrorism” is an internal phrase used by the FBI, German said. “Domestic terrorism just means ‘not affiliated with Muslim groups.’ If you’re a Neo-Nazi terrorist in the United States, even if you’re Canadian or French, you’re a domestic terrorist.”

The authors of the report suggested that they had sought information not just about the immigration status of terrorists themselves, but of their families, especially of American citizens. “Information pertaining to the citizenship status of the parents of these 147 [American-born] individuals was not available at the time of this report’s issuance,” reads one footnote.

The report comes as the White House and Congress are engaged in a heated debate over the potential for an immigration overhaul. A hard line on immigration was the most prominent policy stance of Trump’s presidential campaign.

This post has been updated.

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