Share |

Trump Is Wrong. Green-Card Immigrants Aren’t a Terrorist Threat

Alex Nowrasteh

The Trump administration is launching a legal assault on two
categories of immigrants in the United States. On Monday, it
canceled a long standing program for Salvadorans, called Temporary
Protected Status (TPS), that will strip legal work status from
about 200,000 people in the next 18 months. But ongoing, and far
more dangerous, is the administration’s attempt to cut the number
of legal family-sponsored immigrants on green cards.

The Trump administration is arguing that two recent terrorist attacks in
New York City should prompt Congress to strip people of green
cards. The first attack on Halloween by Sayfullo Saipov, an
immigrant from Uzbekistan, killed eight people. The second was
Akayed Ullah from Bangladesh. He killed nobody
but did manage to mutilate himself. Both entered the U.S. on green
cards because they were related to American citizens or other legal
immigrants on green cards.

Yet family-sponsored immigrants are far from the threat the
Trump administration imagines they are, and cutting off this source
of immigration is a foolish way to respond to occasional terror
attacks.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued that visas like Ullah’s
are responsible for the terror attack, “a result of
failed immigration policies.” But neither Sessions nor any other
member of the administration has told us how dangerous
family-sponsored immigrants actually are. White House spokesman
Hogan Gidley said, “We believe that data drives policy, and this
data will help drive votes” to cut family-sponsored green cards.
What do the data actually say?

From 1975 through 2017, 16 people have been murdered in attacks on U.S.
soil by terrorists who entered on a green card. My estimate is that
such terrorists, including those in the family-sponsored category
that this administration wants to cut, are responsible for 0.4
percent of all deaths in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since
1975.

As tragic as recent
terror attacks have been, the danger posed by foreign-born
terrorists entering using green cards does not justify the pain and
anguish that will come from separating American citizens from
members of their family born overseas.

The odds of dying in a terrorist attack committed by an
immigrant who entered on a green card during that time are about
one in 723 million per year. This number even exaggerates the
danger to American citizens and legal immigrants. If you do not
include the deaths of the six out of eight people murdered by
Saipov on Halloween who were Argentinian tourists, the danger to
American citizens decreases even further, to about one in 1.2
billion a year.

That miniscule probability merits a comparison to far-more
routine dangers. About 800,000 people were murdered in nonterror
homicides during the 43-year period I studied. That means your
annual chance of dying in a normal homicide is about one in 14,000
a year — about 50,000 to 80,000 times more likely than being
killed in a terror attack committed by a green card recipient.

More than three times as many people are murdered each day in
the United States than the total number who have been murdered by
foreign-born terrorists during the last 43 years. Every death in a
terrorist attack is a tragedy, and life cut short should be
punished under the law, but let’s not exaggerate the danger.

Still, the public fears terrorism and might fall for the
administration’s scare tactics. According to a June 2017 Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans are very
worried or somewhat worried that they or a member of their family
will become a victim of terrorism. The same poll showed that about
zero percent of Americans actually knew a victim of terror.

However deep fear of terrorism runs, Americans don’t support any
major changes to public policy because of that threat. A December
2017 Pew poll found that 80 percent of Republicans
and 61 percent of Democrats believe that the federal government is
doing a good or somewhat good job of keeping the country safe from
terrorism.

The government needs to have a good reason to permanently
separate American citizens from their foreign-born family members.
As tragic as recent terror attacks have been, the danger posed by
foreign-born terrorists entering using green cards does not justify
the pain and anguish that will come from separating American
citizens from members of their family born overseas. In all of
these cases, the Trump administration is going after the wrong
people.

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute