Politics

Three in Four Terrorism Convicts Were Born Abroad, Feds Say

Administration officials argue report highlights need to end visa lottery, curtail chain migration to protect Americans

Three out of every four people convicted of terrorism-related charges in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., were born in foreign countries, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department.

The report details 549 convictions, including 402 who were foreigners, between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of 2016. That comes to 73 percent — and does not include the convictions of U.S.-born children of immigrants.

During the same period, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers deported another 1,716 foreigners due to national security concerns. Homeland security officials encountered an additional 2,554 U.S.-bound travelers on the terrorism watch list.

White House officials said that taken together, the statistics demonstrate the need to reform the immigration system. The report adds heft to the administration’s effort to end the diversity visa lottery — which awards about 50,000 green cards annually to applicants chosen randomly — and to curtail family-sponsored immigration. President Donald Trump has demanded those changes be part of any deal to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

“This report is part of the administration’s efforts to illuminate basic statistics that should be in the hands of the American people to inform public discourse on these issues,” a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters. “It’s part of our transparency effort, and it’s something we will be issuing ever 180 days from here going forward.”

Trump mandated Tuesday’s report as part of an executive order he signed shortly after taking office. It is similar to a report issued in 2016 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was a senator from Alabama.

“If Congress is truly committed to keeping Americans safe, then programs like the visa lottery and chain migration must be eliminated.”

When officials in former President Barack Obama’s administration would not respond to questions, the senator’s staff put together a report culled from Department of Justice (DOJ) news releases showing nearly 400 foreign-born terrorism defendants through the end of 2014.

Of the 549 terrorism convictions in Tuesday’s report:

  • 147 were citizens by virtue of their birth in the United States.
  • 148 were immigrants who had attained American citizenship.
  • 254 were noncitizens.

The report also provides details on the 2,554 travelers who were on the FBI’s terrorist watch list in fiscal year 2017:

  • 335 were attempting to enter by land.
  • 2,170 were attempting to enter via airplane.
  • 49 were attempting to enter by sea.

In addition, according to the report, ICE deported some 372,098 noncitizens between Oct. 1, 2011, and  Sept. 30, 2017, after convictions for aggravated felonies or two or more felonies.

The administration official said researchers had not been able to verify how each of the foreign-born terrorism defendants entered the country. But the report includes several examples that he said are representative, including those who entered via chain migration or the diversity visa lottery.

Three of the eight examples listed include:

  • Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, who came to the United States from Sudan in 2012 under sponsorship by a Sudanese relative who was a lawful permanent resident of the United States. In 2016, Elhassan pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State. A judge sentenced him last year to 11 years in prison. Court documents show that he helped Joseph Hassan Farrokh travel to Syria to fight with ISIS. Farrokh vowed to “chop their heads,” according to the report.
  • Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, who came to the United States in 2011 in Uzbekistan after winning the visa lottery in 2011. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiring to support ISIS and received a 15-year prison sentence last year. Juraboev posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website vowing to kill Obama in an act of martyrdom, according to the report. He later told federal investigators that he wanted to travel to the Middle East to help ISIS establish a caliphate. He also talked of detonating a bomb on New York’s Coney Island.
  • Ali Shukri Amin, who came to the United States from Sudan in 1999 as the child of a diversity lottery winner and later became a citizen. A federal judge sentenced him in 2015 to more than 11 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support and resources to ISIS. The report indicates that he offered advice to others on how to use Bitcoin to mask funds provided to the terrorist organization.

“I can assure you it is more than just a few cherry-picked cases,” the administration official said.

The officials said the individual examples vary by the country of origin and the manner in which the terrorism suspects entered the United States. But he said they share a common trait.

“What they all indicate are fundamental flaws where we have individuals who are admitted through our flawed immigration system who were not likely to assimilate, thrive and succeed in the United States, and of course, turned their back on this country and its people after their admission,” he said.

Related: Importing Our Terrorism

Organizations that long have favored stricter criteria for admitting immigrants praised Tuesday’s report. Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of the Immigration Reform law Institute, said in a statement that the report shows why Congress must pass Trump’s immigration reforms.

“The DHS report confirms what many Americans have long suspected: that our current immigration system is a gateway for terrorists to enter our country freely and do us harm,” he stated. “If Congress is truly committed to keeping Americans safe, then programs like the visa lottery and chain migration must be eliminated.”

Clare Lopez, of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, told LifeZette that the report is important.

“It’s sobering, and it also underscores why President Trump has been trying so hard to revamp immigration and refugee resettlement parameters,” she said.

Lopez said “extreme vetting,” as Trump calls it, will have to include a wholesale retraining of government workers to know what questions to ask visa applicants and how to gauge their responses to ferret out people with extremist views. That is smarter than a country-based approach, she said.

“It’s what they carry with them in their ears and mind,” she said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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