Trump administration: Three-quarters of international terrorism convicts foreign born

Trump administration: Three-quarters of international terrorism convicts foreign born
© Getty Images

Three out of four individuals convicted on international terrorism charges in the U.S. were foreign born, according to a new report released by the Trump administration amid a contentious debate on national security and immigration.

Between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2016, 549 individuals were convicted on international terrorism charges, of whom 254 were foreign citizens, 148 were naturalized U.S. citizens and 147 were natural born U.S. citizens, according to Justice Department  numbers.

"This report is part of the administration's efforts to illuminate basic statistics that should be at the hands of the American people to inform public discourse on the issue," a senior administration official told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday.


The report highlights seven "illustrative examples" of foreign-born individuals convicted of terrorism. Those individuals were born in India, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Yemen; some obtained U.S. citizenship, others legal permanent residency or refugee status.

Administration officials said the examples serve "to highlight the importance of reforming our immigration system to ensure that we are identifying and admitting individuals who are the most likely to assimilate, thrive and succeed in the United States."

The report also says 2,554 people on the terrorist watchlist were intercepted attempting to enter the United States, 2,170 by air, 335 by land and 49 by sea.

The report does not include numbers on how many of the convicts or interceptees were either in the U.S. or attempting to enter the country through the diversity visa or family reunification — commonly called "chain migration" — programs.

"We don't as of today have all of those details ready to release. We hope to be able to provide statistical information about the manner of entry of all of these individuals in a future iteration of this report," said another senior administration official. "I can assure you that it is more than just the cherry-picked cases that are represented here in this report who entered through this program."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE demanded in a meeting with lawmakers last week that any agreement to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which Trump rescinded last September — include provisions to end the diversity visa program and reform family-based immigration.

Trump included Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios MORE (R-Ark.), a proponent of doing away with the diversity lottery program and chain migration, and Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteIt’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling House GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end MORE (R-Va.), the main sponsor of a House bill that includes similar proposals at that White House meeting, called to discuss a bipartisan agreement reached by Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Durbin: Trump pressuring acting AG in Cohen probe is 'no surprise' MORE (D-Ill.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.). 

The meeting ended without agreement after the president reportedly called certain nations "shithole countries," but the administration has since doubled down on linking immigration to terrorism.

“This report reveals an indisputable sobering reality — our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety,” said Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsEx-Trump aide: Can’t imagine Mueller not giving House a ‘roadmap’ to impeachment Rosenstein: My time at DOJ is 'coming to an end' Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump MORE in a statement.

“And the information in this report is only the tip of the iceberg: we currently have terrorism-related investigations against thousands of people in the United States, including hundreds of people who came here as refugees."

The terrorism numbers, however, don't include incidents and convictions of domestic terror, which by most accounts are undertaken mostly by American citizens.

The Justice Department’s counsel for domestic terrorism matters, Thomas Brzozowski, said last week that domestic terrorists are harder to prosecute, as they enjoy greater protections under the Constitution than foreign terrorists, leading to lesser charges.

But Brzozowski added that "the notion that the government takes Islamic extremism more seriously than domestic terrorism is, frankly, not true.”

Administration officials added that the new report does not cover instances of first-generation Americans who have been convicted of terrorism offenses.

"Of course a couple egregious examples of those are the shooter at the Orlando nightclub or the attack in San Bernardino a couple years ago. Those are incidents that were not captured but of course represent a significant threat," said one of the administration officials.

Officials said the departments of Homeland Security and Justice want Congress to end the diversity visa lottery and chain migration, but denied the report's release was intended to coincide with the ongoing debate on DACA, an Obama-era program that shields immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation.

"Its timing is merely coincidental with the ongoing debate, however we don’t mean to diminish its importance in the issues that it highlights in terms of the outcome of that debate in any kind of policy changes or legislative changes," said an administration official.