President Trump on Monday signed a new executive order temporarily banning travelers from six Muslim-majority nations due to “heightened concerns about terrorism” coming from those countries.
“We cannot risk the prospect of malevolent actors using our immigration system to take American lives,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said at a news briefing announcing the new order.
This new ban, which came about after the first was frozen by federal courts, has something big in common with the earlier version: It would not have kept out of the United States anyone responsible for a deadly terror attack since 2001.
The revised ban keeps out people from six countries that the Trump administration says pose certain “national security risks.” There have been 10 fatal attacks tied to Islamist extremist ideology or otherwise deemed international terrorism since 2001 and the people behind those attacks are from none of the banned countries.
In fact, since the Sept. 11 attacks, every deadly jihadist attack inside the United States was carried out by a U.S. citizen or legal resident, according to data collected by New America, a Washington-based nonprofit group. The group issued a report determining that the danger had been posed by people here at home, rather than those looking to sneak into the country.
“Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents,” the group said.
Trump and his aides have repeatedly argued that the travel ban is needed for national security reasons, pointing to the specter of past attacks as well as the threat of future ones to justify the order.
After the first ban was signed, Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, went on television and defended it by pointing to incidents like the Sept. 11 attack, the Boston Marathon bombing or the mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, Calif.
This line of argument did not end when the ban was halted in court and Trump officials began working up a new order. Just last week, during his first address to Congress, Trump alluded to the forthcoming new ban and also pointed to San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon and Sept. 11 as reasons why “improved vetting procedures” are needed.
These claims do not hold up. None of the Sept. 11 hijackers were from banned countries (most were from Saudi Arabia, while the rest were from Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates).
The two more recent mass shootings cited both involved people born in the United States. Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, was born in New York, the son of an immigrant from Afghanistan, a country not among those banned. In San Bernardino, Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers, was born in Illinois. His wife, Tashfeen Malik, who came to the United States on a fiance visa, was born in Pakistan and later moved to Saudi Arabia, two countries not covered by the ban. According to the FBI, Farook had been radicalized and plotting attacks years before he met her.
The Boston Marathon bombers — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — were brothers born in Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Dzhokhar, the younger of the two, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Several news outlets and politicians incorrectly reported that their parents were refugees; they instead came to the United States on travel visas and applied for political asylum.
Trump’s new ban also suspends refugee resettlement, arguing that “more than 300” people who came into the country as refugees are the subjects of FBI counterterrorism probes. The FBI referred questions about these probes, along with the countries of origin of these people and their current status, to the Justice Department, which has declined to elaborate.
Refugees from the countries included in Trump’s ban weren’t responsible for any attacks in the U.S. between 1975 and 2015, according to a report published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. The report examined 154 people described as foreign-born terrorists who carried out attacks during that period; 20 were found to be refugees, and the only three who successfully carried out deadly attacks were Cubans admitted before the Refugee Act of 1980.
That report came before Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a refugee from Somalia, drove his car into a crowd on the Ohio State University campus late last year and injured 11 people before being fatally shot by a police officer. The FBI has said Artan might have been inspired by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack. (The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee later alleged Artan should have received more thorough vetting when his family was seeking refugee status in the United States years earlier.)
The text of Trump’s new order goes on to argue that the danger is posed not only from those who carried out successful attacks, but also those who were convicted of terrorism-related crimes and may have plotted attacks.
“Recent history shows that some of those who have entered the United States through our immigration system have proved to be threats to our national security,” the order states. “Since 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.”
It offers two examples for this, one of which involves refugees from a country — Iraq — that was on the overall ban list for the original order and removed from the new version.
That case — the so-called “Bowling Green massacre” cited by Conway during a widely criticized television appearance — involved two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Ky., who were sentenced to prison in 2013 after admitting to using makeshift explosive devices in Iraq and trying to send money to fund terrorism.
The other example is accurate, and points to Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia who was convicted of plotting to bomb the Portland Christmas tree lighting in 2010. According to federal officials, he began communicating with a Saudi national to discuss traveling to Yemen for training before undercover FBI operatives reached out and they began corresponding about plotting an attack. Mohamud was arrested after trying to detonate his bomb, which was inert.