Homeland Security

Trump’s refugee ban is the perfect ISIS recruiting tool

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Sometimes government actions result in making the problem they are trying to fix worse rather than solving it.

For example, we don’t know much yet about the harm of smoking e-cigarettes. But we are relatively sure that they are less harmful than regular cigarettes. Efforts to make e-cigarettes more difficult to purchase therefore hold the risk of increasing the number of people consuming regular cigarettes and thereby increasing the risk of lung cancer.

Risk assessors often describe these as “risk-risk tradeoffs.”

Another example a risk-risk tradeoff comes from the world of automobile emissions. When new standards for tailpipe emissions are set, they apply only to new cars (reasonably so, since retrofitting old cars would be very expensive). This increases the price of new cars. The increased price leads potential buyers to hold on to their old polluting cars longer and therefore the level of pollution (at least in the short run) is higher than it would be without the new requirement.

President Trump’s new executive order on immigration may be a classic example of a risk-risk tradeoff. It targets two groups of individuals: refugees and those from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). Based on available data, members of neither of these groups represent a significant risk of committing a terrorist attack.

{mosads}There have been three terrorist crimes committed by refugees since Sept. 11. As ThinkProgress notes, “Two of the men were indicted and jailed for plotting to send weapons to terrorist organizations in Iraq. One Uzbek man was convicted of terrorism-related charges for possessing explosives and supporting a terrorist organization in Uzbekistan.”


The vetting procedures for refugees put in place by the Obama administration make attacks even less likely. As for the seven countries from which we are going to suspend immigration, there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil by visa-holders from those countries.

Where have terrorists in recent years come from? Whether it is in San Bernardino, California, where the attack was by a lawful permanent resident from Pakistan, or Fort Hood, Texas, and Orlando, Florida, where the shooters were native-born Americans, the terrorists were already here — they were not recent immigrants. They were mentally unstable individuals who were radicalized by anti-U.S. rhetoric from terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well, guess who just got some amazing fodder for their anti-U.S. rhetoric? As Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has said, the executive order has given ISIS a “path to rebirth.” An organization that was on the run in Syria and Iraq has just been handed an amazing recruiting tool: A written proclamation from the U.S. president that everything they’ve been saying all these years about the United States being at war with Muslims is true.

This recruiting tool is likely to be effective in messages consumed by individuals like those who perpetrated the awful attacks in Fort Hood, Orlando and San Bernardino. So while we will be keeping out individuals who mean the United States no harm and indeed are in many cases the victims of those who do, we will have handed our enemies an important weapon.

By allegedly trying to decrease the risk of a terrorist attack, we may have increased it.

Stuart Shapiro is a professor and director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School at Rutgers University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags al Qaeda Chris Murphy Homegrown Iran Iraq ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria libya Somalia Sudan Syria Terror Yemen

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