Originally Published in The Washington Post
A REPORT last year by the Justice and Homeland Security departments used cooked, bent and inaccurate data to link immigration to terrorism, thereby advancing the Trump administration’s nativist agenda. In so doing, it enshrined bigotry and impugned the departments’ credibility while shedding no light on the real threat posed by terrorism. Now the administration, grudgingly, admits error. But it won’t correct or retract.
The report, issued last January, relied on manipulated “facts,” illogical conflation and glaring omissions to reach risible conclusions. In September, 18 former top officials in the fields of national security and counterterrorism wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to describe the report’s flaws . Separately, a lawsuit asked the departments to correct or retract the report.
In response, the Justice Department this month acknowledged the report’s misuse of data, which it wrongly minimized as “mere editorial errors,” as well as the potential for misinterpretation, which it said it would “strive to minimize” in the future. But it refused to take the obvious next step.
The report’s central distortion is its effort to mash together immigration and terrorism — specifically its deceptive assertion that nearly three-quarters of 549 individuals convicted of terrorism offenses since Sept. 11, 2001, were foreign-born. The statistic glosses over the fact that roughly 100 of those convictions involved individuals arrested in foreign countries who were extradited and brought to stand trial in the United States for offenses committed overseas. They are hardly “immigrants,” but the report lumps them together with U.S. resident offenders who were born abroad, including legal and illegal immigrants and naturalized citizens.
The report appears intent on vilifying immigrant family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, in service to President Trump’s sustained attacks on “chain migration.” It does so by citing eight “illustrative examples” of terrorist offenders, of whom six were admitted to the country as relatives of citizens and green-card holders. “On reconsideration,” wrote a senior Justice Department official, Michael H. Allen, the focus on those offenders, among more than 400 terrorism convictions, may prompt readers to question the report’s objectivity. That remark is a triumph of understatement.
In confining its focus to foreign-born terrorists, the report turns a blind eye to homegrown terrorists, including white supremacists and other far-right groups. A 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office highlights the scale of that distortion by pointing out that over roughly the same period surveyed by the Justice and Homeland Security report, right-wing extremist groups were responsible for 73 percent of 85 lethal incidents; Islamist extremists were responsible for 27 percent.
That was left out of the administration report. So was the truth.