A Justice Department official on Wednesday defended the Trump administration’s use of a terrorism report containing contested figures to promote efforts to change the nation’s immigration system.
The report, released on Tuesday by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, contended that 73 percent of the 549 individuals convicted on terrorism charges since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were born outside the U.S. But experts have disputed that figure, arguing that the report seemed to have been framed to support the White House’s proposed immigration reforms.
Specifically, critics have taken issue with the report’s inclusion of terrorists captured overseas and extradited to the U.S. on terrorism charges in the same category as immigrants who came to the U.S. and later conducted acts of terrorism. Combining the two groups inflates the report’s finding on foreign-born terrorists in the U.S., critics told reporters from The Washington Post and The Daily Beast.
But Ed O’Callaghan, principal deputy assistant attorney general, maintained on Wednesday that including terrorists arrested overseas and extradited to the U.S. is fair game because the arrests ultimately foiled terrorism plots against the U.S.
“The underlying important fact about those cases,” he said, “is that we were able to prove that those individuals committed terrorism offenses against the United States and are now serving either life sentences or very long sentences that will neutralize their threat to the United States going forward. Because we were able to convict them under an international terrorism statute here in the United States.”
O’Callaghan did not specifically answer a reporter’s question on how many of the 402 foreign-born terrorists had been extradited to the U.S. and how many had been arrested on U.S. soil.
Critics of the report’s methodology are also skeptical of its authors’ decision to exclude domestic terrorism, which some said made the report paint a less-than-full picture of terrorism in the U.S. A senior Trump administration official, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, said that “as serious as domestic terror is and as committed as we are to combating it, it’s not something that was within the scope of this particular report.”
The report’s release, part of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump last year, comes as the White House is pushing for changes in the U.S. immigration system that would end the diversity visa lottery program — through which a terrorist who killed eight people with a rented truck entered the U.S. — and chain migration, the practice of legal immigrants sponsoring family members’ entry into the country.
The senior administration official who spoke to reporters on Tuesday was unable to say how many of the terrorists included in the report had been beneficiaries of either of the immigration programs the White House is hoping to end.