Trump’s Executive Order by the Numbers

On January 27, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order on immigration, titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” The order places a ban on the entry of foreign nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days; suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days; and blocks the entry of Syrian nationals indefinitely.  

According to the order, “numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program.”

Who is Affected by the Ban and How?

Foreign Nationals: Citizens of the seven listed countries will be prevented from boarding flights to the United States from their point of origin. Individuals from any of these countries carrying dual citizenship will also be prevented from flying, with the exception of UK citizens, diplomats, and UN passport holders. According to the Washington Post, close to 90,000 individuals from the seven countries received US visas in the fiscal year 2015, the majority hailing from Iran. Around 19 percent of those individuals were granted immigrant visas.

Green Card Holders: Amid reports of Customs and Border Patrol detaining green card holders while enforcing the Executive Order, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement two days after its issuance clarifying its impact on green card holders from the seven majority Muslim countries. The statement said the entry of lawful permanent residents is in the interest of US national security, adding that “absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare,” legal permanent residents will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. They will not be barred from boarding flights from their point of origin, as is the case with other foreign nationals from the seven countries, but will be subject to further screening.

Student Visas: President Trump’s Executive Order also accounts for individuals traveling to the United States on student visas from the seven countries specified. According to data from the Institute for International Education, an estimated 17,000 students from the seven countries listed in the Executive order were studying at US colleges and universities in the 2015-2016 academic year, almost three quarters of whom are from Iran.

US Citizens: According to a statement from White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, US citizens should not be affected by the Executive Order, unless they travel frequently to the countries in question. In that case, they will be subject to further screening. By extension, other foreign nationals who are not from the seven countries are also likely to face extra screening.

All Refugees: Refugees from all countries will be unable to board flights bound for the US for the next 90 days, while Syrian refugees will be barred indefinitely. In suspending refugee admissions for the next 120 days, the Executive Order temporarily abolishes the US Refugees Admissions Program (USRAP) housed within DHS, which largely oversees the screening and vetting processes for incoming refugees. This process includes registration and data collection, interagency security checks, a DHS interview, and interagency biometric security checks, all before being assigned to a resettlement location. However, it should be noted that less than 1 percent of the global refugee population have their applications forwarded to the US government by the United Nations. In practice, the process for claiming refugee status includes 20 distinct steps. Under USRAP guidelines, high risk applicants go through additional screening in the form of a security advisory opinion by the FBI or a US intelligence official.

Do the Parties Affected Pose a Threat to National Security?

Attacks by Nationals from the Seven Countries: According to data from the Cato Institute, between 1975 and 2015, fifteen foreign-born individuals from the countries included in the Executive Order—six born in Iran, six in Somalia, two in Iraq, one in Yemen, and none in Syria or Libya—were involved in terrorist attacks on US soil. Zero deaths of US citizens resulted from the terror attempts by these fifteen individuals. In November 2016, a legal permanent resident from Somalia studying at Ohio State University committed an attack on the campus that injured 11 and killed zero. The Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) later claimed the attack.

Attacks by Refugees from All Countries: The Cato Institute, which examined cases over a period of 40 years from 1975 to 2015, found that 20 refugees in the US were convicted of attempting or committing acts of terrorism during that time. The refugees were responsible for attacks which killed three Americans, and all of the attacks were perpetrated in the 1970s by Cubans admitted prior to the passing of the Refugee Act of 1980, which created the rigorous refugee-screening procedures currently in place. The remaining convictions were related to aiding or attempting to join foreign terrorist groups.

A 2015 study by the Migration Policy Institute showed that of the 784,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11, three were arrested for plotting terrorist activities. Of those three, two were found to be planning an attack outside of the US, while the plans of the third were found to not be credible. More than 3 million refugees in have arrived to the United States since 1975, which means that less than 0.00067 percent of refugees have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism since 1975. The chance of an American being murdered in a refugee-plotted terrorist attack is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.

The Executive Order singled out Syrian refugees as being particularly “detrimental” to US national security interests and suspended the entry of any Syrian nationals. Zero Syrian-born refugees have been convicted of engaging in a terrorist plot and zero American deaths have resulted from the entry of Syrian citizens. Syrian refugees in the United States are often those from vulnerable populations. Of the more than 8,000 Syrian refugees admitted to the US since August 2015, 78 percent are women or children, according to figures released by the State Department in August. Fifty-eight percent are children, split almost evenly between girls and boys.

Attacks by Student Visa Holders: According to findings from the Cato Institute, 19 of the over 24 million individuals who entered the United States on student visas from 1975 to 2015 committed or attempted acts of terrorism. The only individuals out of this group of 19 that hailed from any of the countries listed in the Executive order were four Iranians and one Sudanese with ties to a 1979 plot to kidnap a US governor. Eight of these individuals were convicted of committing or attempting acts of terrorism after 9/11 and none came from the seven countries banned by the Executive Order. Their countries of origin include: Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the United Kingdom.

Emily Burchfield is an intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Rachel Kreisman is an intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. 

Image: An international traveler arrives after U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder