view counter

Travel banTwo government reports do not strengthen case for travel ban

Published 17 March 2017

Two internal government reports appear to weaken the case the Trump administration has been making for the temporary travel ban. The implementation of the second version of the ban has been halted by judges in Hawaii and Maryland. The first report, prepared by DHS, found that most of the suspected or confirmed foreign-born terrorists probably became radicalized after they arrived in the United States, not before. The second report, based on data collected by the FBI, shows that most of the suspected or confirmed foreign-born terrorists had come from countries not among the six countries to which the travel ban would apply. The data in the two reports “points to the central question about the travel ban, which is, are you addressing the issues you need to address when it comes to the threat?” says one expert.

Two internal government reports appear to weaken the case the Trump administration has been making for the temporary travel ban. The implementation of the second version of the ban has been halted by judges in Hawaii and Maryland.

The Washington Post reports that the first report, prepared by DHS and titled “Most Foreign-Born US-Based Violent Extremists Radicalized After Entering Homeland,” focuses on eighty-eight cases involving suspected or confirmed foreign-born terrorists between March 2011 and December 2016. It found that most of them probably became radicalized after they arrived in the United States, not before.

The second report, based on data collected by the FBI, shows that most of the suspected or confirmed foreign-born terrorists had come from countries not among the six countries to which the travel ban would apply.

The DHS prepared the report on radicalization with help from FBI personnel at the National Counterterrorism Center. The FBI compiled the data on current or former refugees under investigation.

The first report, finalized this month, found that nearly half of the individuals studied came to the United States when they were younger than 16, and that in many of the cases the terrorism charges which were filed against them were filed more than ten years after their arrival.

The authors of the report conclude that “tailored’’ domestic de-radicalization programs would be the most effective way to fight the adoption of extremist ideology.

In arguing for the travel ban, the Justice Department has said that there are currently more than 300 open terrorism-related investigations of individuals who came to the United States as refugees.

Sources familiar with the two internal reports told the Post that least 70 percent of the people under review are from countries not targeted by the administration’s travel ban. More than half of the cases involve individuals who were Iraqi nationals. Roughly two-thirds of the people under investigation arrived in the United States seven or more years ago, before the tightening of the vetting procedures on those arriving from Iraq.

About 20 percent of the 300 investigations involve Somali refugees. Somalia is covered under the ban.

Government officials familiar with the 300 cases say that there are more nationals from Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Bosnia subject to counterterrorism investigations than nationals from Yemen, Iran and Libya.

Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Bosnia are not on the travel ban list – but Yemen, Iran and Libya are.

The definition of “terrorism-related investigation” is broad, referring serious suspicion of terrorist activity, but also to individuals who are being investigated because they have relative or relatives suspected of terrorist ties.

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, said the reports’ findings generally match his research.

“There are still going to be individuals who want to come here and do us harm, but the data is the data, and you should adjust your policy based on the data,” Hughes told the Post. “Even the individuals who were refugees generally came here at a very young age and were arrested 20 years later. That’s not a sleeper cell — that’s a coma cell.”

Hughes added that most of the terrorism in the United States brews from within, fueled in part by online activity and in part through face-to-face interactions with like-minded people that lead to radicalization.

“You’re mostly talking about U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are largely brought into it by connections they made online — which doesn’t have a border,” he said.

Hughes noted that it is not surprising that of the more than 300 refugees or former refugees who came under law enforcement scrutiny, Iraqis make up a large percentage, given the previously known cases.

The data in the two reports “points to the central question about the travel ban, which is, are you addressing the issues you need to address when it comes to the threat?” he said. “In the U.S., you’re talking about much more of a homegrown terrorism problem, and because ISIS attracts such a wide swath of individuals, it’s very hard to do a nationality targeted approach.”