Last week the Trump administration announced new rules that deny asylum to immigrants who initially entered the United States illegally. Immigration law explicitly allows illegal immigrants to apply for asylum, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Muslim Travel Ban case gave the president wide power to ban any group of foreigners if he considers them detrimental to the United States.
President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE’s announcement is in response to the caravan of 4,000-5,000 Central American migrants and asylum seekers slowly making their way to the border. Before the election, Trump stated that “unknown Middle Easterners” were in the caravan who pose a national security threat. President Trump justified the Muslim Travel Ban with an exaggerated national security threat, the legitimacy of the new asylum rules rest on the same fear.
There is little national security threat from the caravan.
There have been zero terrorists from Mexico or Central America who have committed or attempted to commit attacks on U.S. soil during the 43-year period from 1975 through the end of 2017. Those countries are afflicted with ghastly rates of violent crime exacerbated by an American-funded war on drugs, but there is no international terrorist threat emanating from Central America.
Most people in the migrant caravan will apply for asylum while the rest will try to enter illegally. Looking more broadly at terrorist attacks committed by all asylum seekers and illegal immigrants over the last 43 years, only 20 people entering the country illegally or as asylum seekers committed or attempted to commit an attack on U.S. soil.
The illegal immigrant terrorists, who all came from countries outside of the Western Hemisphere except for a single Canadian environmental extremist, killed zero people in their attacks. The asylum seekers, who all came from countries outside of the Western Hemisphere except for one Cuban, did manage to murder nine people in attacks. The annual chance of being murdered by a terrorist who entered as an asylum-seeker was about 1 in 1.3 billion per year from 1975 through the end of 2017.
To put that small chance in context, the annual chance of being murdered in a homicide in the United States is about 89,000 times as great as being murdered in a terrorist attack by an asylum-seeker during the same 43-year period.
Altogether, terrorists who initially entered as asylum-seekers or illegal immigrants accounted for only about 0.3 percent of the 3,037 people murdered in attacks committed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil during that time.
As terrible as each of those murders were, they are not a sufficient national security justification for changing asylum rules and potentially deny many legitimate claims.
There are few foreign-born terrorists who want to commit attacks on U.S. soil, but the government’s revamped visa vetting system is superb at weeding them out. Asylum-seekers and everybody else seeking to enter the United States legally are rightfully subject to a vetting procedure that mistakenly permitted the entry of one radicalized terrorist for every 29 million visa or status approvals from 2002 to 2016 according to research by my colleague David Bier. Most of those terrorists didn’t murder anybody in their attacks, meaning that one radicalized terrorist was admitted for every 379 million visa or status approvals from 2002 through 2016.
Even by government standards, that’s an effective system.
Obviously, people who enter as illegal immigrants are not vetted by the government. However, none of those vetting failures from 2002-2016 was of an asylum-seeker who radicalized and had terroristic intents before coming here. They either entered as children or radicalized after their arrival.
To be fair to the president, it’s theoretically possible that the current caravan of Central Americans could contain entirely new national security threats that are different from the past. The Trump administration has revealed no evidence to indicate that this caravan poses more of a risk to national security than previous Central American migrants or that it contains “unknown Middle Easterners.” The government should have to show that these people threaten our national security.
The recent Supreme Court rubber stamp of Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban granted the president seemingly unlimited powers to close the border or to clog up the asylum system with new red tape. The major justification for new asylum rules has been the national security threat posed by the caravan. Regardless of the president’s power, there is no evidence that this caravan poses an actual national security threat.
Alex Nowrasteh is a senior immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.