border patrol A CBP officer processes an incoming passenger at the Newark International Airport. (James Tourtellotte/Customs and Border Protection)

DHS Terrorism Report Meant to Undermine Immigration Negotiations, House Democrats Charge

House Democratic leaders are protesting a recent Department of Homeland Security report on immigration and terrorism that they say is skewed to exploit the information for partisan gain.

On Jan. 16, DHS issued a report stating that three out of every four individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in federal courts between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2016 were born outside the United States. That equals 402 defendants: 254 were not U.S. citizens and 148 were foreign-born, naturalized and received U.S. citizenship.

Of the terror convictions over that timeframe, 147 were U.S. citizens by birth.

DHS also noted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 1,716 people who had national security concerns over the same period, and that 2,554 people on the terror watch list were caught traveling to the United States last year.

“This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists, and why we must examine our visa laws and continue to intensify screening and vetting of individuals traveling to the United States to prevent terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our country,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement at the time. “Without legislative change DHS will continue to see thousands of terrorists a year attempt to enter the United States, and while we must be right every time, the terrorists only need to be lucky once.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement accompanying the report that the “pillars of President Trump’s immigration policy — securing our porous borders, moving to a merit-based immigration system that ends the use of diversity visas and chain migration, and enforcing our nation’s laws — will make their jobs easier and make the United States a safer place.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) called the report “context and insight into a critical part of the United States’ threat landscape.”

“DHS and DOJ have done a thorough review and taken an important step forward in addressing a dynamic issue affecting our security. These findings are further proof that we need to pass legislation expeditiously to strengthen our borders and enforce our existing laws,” McCaul said, prompting for speedy congressional action.
“As I have said in the past, the American people have been waiting for their leaders to step up, get the job done, and better protect our country.”

Ten days after the release of the report Democratic lawmakers fired back in a letter to Nielsen and Sessions, charging that the document’s “flaws call into question whether the administration is more interested in supporting the president’s political objectives with skewed data than responsibly engaging with Congress and the American people on immigration and border security.”

“It has come to our attention that career professionals at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, who have the data and expertise necessary to analyze immigration and terrorism-related statistics, did not produce the report,” wrote Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson D-Miss.), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Oversight & Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

“Instead, it appears the report was drafted at the behest of political appointees intent on undermining ongoing immigration negotiations by manipulating data to link immigrants to terrorism,” they wrote. “While we are no longer surprised by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and fearmongering, we believe it is important to set the record straight about the statistics presented to provide proper context for the American people.”

The report should have included the total number of immigrants to the United States during the timeframe of the 402 foreign-born convictions, the lawmakers argued, along with context about when the terrorists entered the United States or when they were radicalized. “Just because certain individuals were able to enter the U.S. previously does not make it so today,” they noted.

“Furthermore, an unspecified number of these individuals cited in the report were not even immigrants, but rather individuals who committed offenses overseas and were transported to the U.S. for prosecution. The report’s inclusion of these individuals, who are on U.S. soil solely as a result of our government’s successful efforts to extradite them to face prosecution under our laws, calls into question the credibility of the report as a whole.”

The report was also missing stats on those convicted of domestic terrorism in the same timeframe, the lawmakers added, “further obfuscating the true terrorism threat facing our country.”

Of the 73,261 U.S.-bound air travelers stopped from boarding by Customs and Border Protection between fiscal years 2010 and 2016, the DHS report “deliberately groups individuals denied boarding based on immigration-related matters with the much smaller number of people who may pose a security concern, thereby skewing the data.” It also didn’t separate visitors to the U.S. from immigrants, the House Dems noted.

The lawmakers told Sessions and Nielsen that they “cannot stand by while the Trump administration demonizes immigrants and foments fear in the American people by issuing misleading reports to support a political agenda.”

“We expect that if you issue future reports pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order 13780 or any other presidential directive, you will provide thorough, objective data that address our nation’s security challenges accurately and responsibly,” they wrote.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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