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President Trump’s New Travel Executive Order Has Little National Security Justification

Summary:
President Trump issued a new proclamation that expanded a list of the so-called “travel ban” countries that were the subject of an executive order he issued early in his administration. His first order temporarily banned the entry of nationals from six countries for dubious national security reasons. His new order expands the list to eight countries (as I somewhat predicted). They include Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. From the original six, he subtracted Sudan and added Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. The new executive order is also not a complete ban for all of those countries. All North Koreans and Syrians are barred from obtaining visas while nationals from the other six countries face varying degrees of additional security checks on

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President Trump issued a new proclamation that expanded a list of the so-called “travel ban” countries that were the subject of an executive order he issued early in his administration. His first order temporarily banned the entry of nationals from six countries for dubious national security reasons. His new order expands the list to eight countries (as I somewhat predicted). They include Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. From the original six, he subtracted Sudan and added Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. The new executive order is also not a complete ban for all of those countries. All North Koreans and Syrians are barred from obtaining visas while nationals from the other six countries face varying degrees of additional security checks on specific visas or broader categories (such as nonimmigrant or immigrant).

President Trump issued an executive order earlier this year that temporarily banned the entry of all nationals from six foreign countries in order to “protect the nation from terrorist activities by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” The six (originally seven) Muslim-majority countries were targeted because of the supposed inability of those governments and the United States to sufficiently vet nationals from there for terrorist intent. The order is currently tied up in the courts.

From 1975 through the end of 2015, zero Americans have been killed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil who hail from any of the eight countries on the new executive order (Figure 1). Only nine terrorists from those countries have carried out an attack or actually been convicted of planning an attack on U.S. soil during that time. About 42 percent of all convictions for terrorism-related offenses are for non-terrorist crimes and very few of them could even be considered vetting failures.

Figure 1

Terrorists and Murders by Country

 

Terrorists

Murders

Chad

0

0

Iran

6

0

Libya

0

0

North Korea

0

0

Somalia

2

0

Syria

0

0

Venezuela

0

0

Yemen

1

0

Source: John Mueller, ed., Terrorism Since 9/11: The American Cases; RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents; National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism Global Terrorism Database; Center on National Security; Charles Kurzman, “Spreadsheet of Muslim-American Terrorism Cases from 9/11 through the End of 2015,” University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill; Department of Justice; Federal Bureau of Investigation; New America Foundation; Mother Jones; Senator Jeff Sessions; Various news sources; Court documents.

Executive Orders like these have big and guaranteed economic costs with negligible and unlikely boosts to security. The risk of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner on U.S. soil from 1975 through 2015 was about 1 in 3.6 million per year. Four of the Iranian terrorists (44 percent of the total domestic terrorists from all eight countries) attempted to kidnap the governor of Minnesota in 1979. Those four Iranians were students who are specifically exempted from this new executive order—so only five terrorists would actually have been stopped from those countries. This list of eight countries is not a list of nations whose citizens are the most likely to kill Americans in domestic terrorist attacks. Due to the high guaranteed cost of Executive Orders like these and the small potential security benefits, the administration should supply an excellent reason for this order along with sufficient evidence to demonstrate their claim. It speaks volumes that they have not done so.

Alex Nowrasteh
He is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the Fletcher Security Review, and Public Choice.

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