WASHINGTON ― An internal Department of Homeland Security assessment throws cold water on President Donald Trump’s justification for attempting to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.
The draft report, first uncovered by the Associated Press on Friday, states that citizenship is “likely an unreliable indicator of terrorist threat to the United States.” It was prepared after Trump issued the ban and saw it blocked by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the AP reported. A DHS spokeswoman confirmed that the draft was real but said it did not include all the information and analysis the agency provided on the order.
Trump said the executive order he signed on Jan. 27 was based on the need to prevent terrorist attacks, although his administration cited no specific threats from the countries the order targeted.
The executive order would have blocked citizens of seven countries ― Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days, while keeping out all refugees for 120 days and Syrian refugees indefinitely. It is currently on hold due to multiple legal challenges, but Trump says he plans to soon issue a new version that will pass legal muster.
Trump and administration officials argue it was not a “Muslim ban” like the one he promised during his presidential campaign because it did not affect most Muslim-majority countries. They have pointed to a 2015 law that made it harder for people who had visited these seven countries to enter the U.S. ― saying even Barack Obama, president at the time, agreed that was acceptable and signed the law. Trump repeated that argument at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
Administration officials said they stood by Trump’s justification and argued that the document was not a full assessment of terrorist threats.
“The seven countries were identified by the previous administration as being countries of concern for foreign terrorist travel to the Unites States. Consequently, these countries were the focus of this administration’s initial efforts to enhance vetting for foreign travel to the United States,” DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement. “It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes.”
Still, the DHS draft is added evidence for reports of disputes within the government over whether blanket bans based on citizenship are necessary or effective.
Critics of Trump’s order note that it threatened the rights of millions of people, from green card holders to Christian refugees, and made the U.S. more unpopular in the Muslim-majority world, boosting terror groups’ rhetoric and making cooperation with allies in the region more difficult.
Based on public reports from the Justice and State departments, the Homeland Security assessment reported that citizens of the countries targeted by Trump’s executive order were rarely implicated in terrorism in the U.S. Of 82 individuals who were convicted or died in the pursuit of terrorist activity in the U.S. since March 2011, more than half were U.S.-born citizens, the report noted. Those who were foreign-born did not come primarily from one, two or even seven specific countries ― they were from 26 different ones.
Some of the top countries in the report that produced those linked to terror were not included in Trump’s travel ban. Pakistan, for example, was the birthplace of five individuals but was not singled out by the executive order. Somalia, which was covered by the ban, produced three of the individuals, while two were born in Iraq and one each in Iran, Sudan and Yemen.
There were no individuals from Syria implicated in terrorist activity during the period included in the report. Syria is the country most affected in Trump’s executive order ― he sought to bar refugees from the war-torn country indefinitely, rather than for a 120-day period like he did with refugees from other countries.
A separate report released last year by the libertarian think tank Cato Institute found that refugees do not pose a considerable risk to American lives. According to that report, the likelihood of an American being killed in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.
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