Justice Department report blames immigrants for terrorism, but doesn’t have the data to prove it

It's the report about nothing.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security released a scary report claiming that three out of four individuals convicted of international terrorism or terrorism-related offenses were “immigrants.”

“This report reveals an indisputable sobering reality—our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press statement.  “And the information in this report is only the tip of the iceberg: we currently have terrorism-related investigations against thousands of people in the United States, including hundreds of people who came here as refugees.

The report comes in response to the president’s Executive Order 13780 in March of last year, which allowed the federal government to temporarily suspend all refugee resettlement and ban the issuance of new visas for nationals from six-Muslim majority countries on claims of protecting the United States from national security risks. Section 11 of the executive order also required the DOJ and DHS to collect information about the number of foreign nationals in the United States who have been charged with terrorism-related offenses in the country; information relating to the number of foreign nationals who have been “radicalized” or have provided material support to terrorism-related organizations; information about the number of “honor killings;” and any information relating to the immigration status of people charged with major offenses.

The government released the report to great fanfare, with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calling for enhanced “screening and vetting” and the White House releasing a press statement on the necessity of ending many forms of legal immigration. But there’s one big problem with the report’s misleading headline: it lacks the data points to make such a big proclamation.


As other journalists and national security analysts skeptically pointed out, the DOJ broadly defines “immigrants” as both the people extradited to the United States for trial and immigrants arrested in the country.

The supposed bombshell report is also significant for how much data it lacks. It includes a total of descriptions of eight individuals out of 402 foreign-born people who it says were convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2016. Yet in the same paragraph, the report pointed out that the “DHS and DOJ do not yet have complete, final information” about the full list of 549 people convicted of the same charges. Most noteworthy, there’s no general breakdown of the kind of charges levied against the individuals.

The report also does not include data points on “individual radicalization.”

“DHS and DOJ lack unclassified, aggregated statistical information pertaining to the timing of individual radicalization,” the report admitted. “DHS and DOJ will endeavor to provide greater clarity on the percentage of individuals who appear to have radicalized to violence after their entry into the United States. Additionally, for purposes of advancing terrorism prevention activities, DHS and DOJ will continue to explore the timing and trends related to the radicalization of such individuals.”


The report additionally fails to include data points for the number of people killed because of honor killings, another category for which data was required by Section 11 of the executive order.

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2006 and 2015, there were approximately 1.3 million non-fatal domestic violence victimizations each year,” the report said. “It is unclear how many were perpetrated by foreign nationals because the federal government has not recorded and tracked in an aggregated statistical manner information pertaining to gender-based violence against women committed at the federal and state level.”

There is ultimately little meaningful data gathered from the report, which fails to take into account the acts of genuine terror that gripped the United States in President Donald Trump’s first year in office. The DOJ data does not include horrific events like when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman; a white man who took to the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel to gun down 58 people and injured 489 others before killing himself; and a white man who killed 26 churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas; among other mass shooting incidents last year.

However, the report is intentionally timely. In a few days time, lawmakers must pass a government spending bill to prevent a government shutdown. Republican lawmakers are tying the bill with immigration legislation that would eliminate the diversity visa lottery, end family-based migration, and provide funding for the border wall. Democrats have been hesitant to agree to a spending bill with such stringent immigration measures, though only a few Democratic senators have held steadfast to their desire to include permanent protections for so-called DREAMers who came to the country as children.