President Donald Trump’s “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” signed on Monday offers new information not highlighted in most news reports.
“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 stated. “Since 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.”
“The Attorney General has reported to me that more than 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Trump stated. He also indicated that “Terrorist groups have sought to infiltrate several nations through refugee programs.”
Careful to reveal that his original order (Executive Order 13769) was “not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities—whoever they are and wherever they reside…”
The order provided two examples to show that some of the terrorism within the U.S. came not “just persons who came here legally on visas but also individuals who first entered the country as refugees.”
- January 2013, two Iraqi nationals admitted to the U.S. as refugees in 2009 were sentenced to 40 years and to life in prison, respectively, for multiple terrorism-related offenses.
- October 2014, a native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen was sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.
The order included information, taken in part from the Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 (June 2016), of some of reasons the previously designated countries are designated as heightened security risks.
- Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and continues to support various terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, and terrorist groups in Iraq. Iran has also been linked to support for al-Qa’ida and has permitted al-Qa’ida to transport funds and fighters through Iran to Syria and South Asia. Iran does not cooperate with the United States in counterterrorism efforts.
- Libya is an active combat zone, with hostilities between the internationally recognized government and its rivals. In many parts of the country, security and law enforcement functions are provided by armed militias rather than state institutions. Violent extremist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have exploited these conditions to expand their presence in the country.
- Portions of Somalia have been terrorist safe havens. Al-Shabaab, an al-Qa’ida-affiliated terrorist group, has operated in the country for years and continues to plan and mount operations within Somalia and in neighboring countries. Somalia has porous borders, and most countries do not recognize Somali identity documents.
- Sudan has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993 because of its support for international terrorist groups, including Hizballah and Hamas. Historically, Sudan provided safe havens for al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups to meet and train. Although Sudan’s support to al-Qa’ida has ceased and it provides some cooperation with the United States’ counterterrorism efforts, elements of core al-Qa’ida and ISIS-linked terrorist groups remain active in the country.
- Syria has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979. The Syrian government is engaged in an ongoing military conflict against ISIS and others for control of portions of the country. At the same time, Syria continues to support other terrorist groups. It has allowed or encouraged extremists to pass through its territory to enter Iraq. ISIS continues to attract foreign fighters to Syria and to use its base in Syria to plot or encourage attacks around the globe, including in the United States. The United States Embassy in Syria suspended its operations in 2012. Syria does not cooperate with the United States’ counterterrorism efforts.
- Yemen is the site of an ongoing conflict between the incumbent government and the Houthi-led opposition. Both ISIS and a second group, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have exploited this conflict to expand their presence in Yemen and to carry out hundreds of attacks. Weapons and other materials smuggled across Yemen’s porous borders are used to finance AQAP and other terrorist activities. In 2015, the United States Embassy in Yemen suspended its operations, and embassy staff were relocated out of the country.
The risk of permitting a national from one of these countries “who intends to commit terrorists acts” or other national security harm is “unacceptably high.”
The order designates Iraq as a special case because so many regions “remain active combat zones…the ongoing conflict has impacted the Iraqi government’s capacity to secure its borders and to identify fraudulent travel documents.”