“There are scores of recent migrants inside our borders charged with terrorism. For every case known to the public, there are dozens and dozens more. We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies.”
— Donald Trump, foreign policy address, April 27, 2016
This claim reminded us of rhetoric surrounding resettled refugees facing terrorism charges, in the wake of last year’s Paris attacks. We had found a Democratic lawmaker’s claim misleading when he said that not one of the refugees who resettled in America after 9/11 has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, and awarded him Two Pinocchios.
Now, Trump says “scores of recent migrants” — which would include refugees — in the United States have been charged with terrorism, and that there are “dozens and dozens” more per public case. Is that correct? The Trump campaign, as usual, did not answer our request for additional details.
It’s unclear where Trump is getting this information. We could not find the source, even after checking with the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, groups that oppose and support immigration, and experts who keep track of domestic or international terrorism cases in the United States.
The claim may be a bungled reference to a list from the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) of 30 foreign-born individuals who were arrested on charges relating to terrorism in recent years. This list is quoted in several articles, and described as a “partial inventory of recently implicated terrorist migrants.” Sessions is also a high-profile supporter of Trump and chairs his national security advisory committee.
We checked indictment records and looked for citizenship or immigration information, where available. The majority of the 30 cases involved naturalized U.S. citizens — people who came to the U.S. as children or had arrived before 2011.
We reviewed similar lists of cases from 2014 and 2015, involving 76 people charged with activities relating to foreign terrorist organizations. Of them, 57 were U.S. citizens, seven were lawful permanent residents and two were refugees. The rest were visa overstays or unknown. There were both naturalized and natural-born U.S. citizens (including those of Caucasian, African American or Hispanic descent), and many of the naturalized citizens had arrived in the country as children.
In general, individuals must live in America at least five years with a green card to qualify for U.S. citizenship. The actual citizenship process can take up to a year or more. So even if Trump is counting naturalized citizens as “migrants,” the ones listed in these cases would not qualify as “recent.”
“I have seen no evidence that there are ‘scores’ of recent migrants charged with terrorism,” said Seth Jones, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp. “Most of the FBI arrests for ISIS-related charges have been American citizens or permanent residents.”
The number of people accused of actually plotting attacks in the United States on behalf of the Islamic State terror group is smaller. Of the 64 people arrested on international terrorism charges between March 2014 and July 2015, 20 were “domestic plotters,” according to a memo published by the federal public defender’s office in New York. Social media has played an important role in the radicalization of American sympathizers of the Islamic State, a George Washington University’s study of its recruits in the U.S. found.
About 10 terrorism-related cases since 2009 have involved refugees — again, they are not “recent migrants.” One instance was when two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Bowling Green, Ky., in 2011 on suspicion of plotting to send weapons to insurgents to kill American soldiers abroad. They were sentenced to federal prison (one for life, the other for 40 years).
After that case, the FBI’s director of Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center told ABC News that there were dozens of terrorism investigations into resettled refugees. But according to former and current U.S. law enforcement officials, the scope of that investigation has been narrowed down to about two dozen people.
The Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombing case were initially described as refugees in news reports, but it was later revealed that the brothers ended up in the United States as minors because their father applied for asylum. Again, Trump’s description of “recent migrants” would not apply.
Are there “dozens and dozens more” cases out there for every case made public? William Banks, founding director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said he doesn’t buy it.
“One implication of his statement is that we’re keeping secrets about terrorism prosecution, and that’s false,” Banks said. “In extraordinary circumstances, indictments might be sealed when there’s a concern about the security of the evidence or safety, of a potential witness, or something like that. But I can’t think of an instance involving terrorism in the United States that might be true.”
The Pinocchio Test
Trump gave a prepared speech for once, with even a teleprompter. So one would presume that someone would have looked this stuff up before writing it into his speech. Alas, there is no evidence that “scores” of “recent migrants” are charged with terrorism, and that for every case made public, there are “dozens and dozens more.”
If we ever get a call or email back from the Trump organization, we would impart this piece of novel advice: use Google.
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